The drive from St. Charles to Chicago isn’t the most scenic, with its miles of flat land in every direction and corn as far as the eye can see. The best part, in Brandon’s opinion, is the dozens of windmills, the way they seem to march across the landscape like a creepy white robot army, their blades sharp and menacing as they rotate, red lights blinking in the center.
He likes the drive, despite the lack of variety in the scenery. It’s symbolic to him now - a pilgrimage of sorts. Hometown to the city where he gets to play professional hockey. Driving away from his roots and towards his dreams.
Or something sappy and ridiculous like that. Hours on the road make him philosophical, apparently.
Especially now, after an odd six weeks back home, which followed an even odder postseason. Driving towards Chicago, towards the convention, Brandon’s got a stomach that’s tying itself in knots and a tension that has settled itself in his spine and shoulders.
He’s not sure what to expect.
They’d been knocked out of the playoffs in the second round. At the beginning of the season that would’ve seemed impossible, when they were cleaning up in their division and elsewhere. But their momentum seemed to peter out right as the weather started changing in Chicago, warming up outside while they were cooling off on the ice. It was frustrating, for sure, no amount of line switching or rest or work or off-ice bonding could snap them out of it. They hadn’t been playing poorly, though it felt like they were. They just weren’t on fire like they had been to start.
Brandon replays their last game as he drives, something he’s done numerous times in the weeks since. He gets as far as the postgame meal before he starts to pull himself out of the memory, because the aftermath of the loss is something he hasn’t allowed himself to revisit yet.
He cranks the radio, focuses on the highway, and drives.
Brake lights greet him almost as soon as he merges onto the Dan Ryan, but there’s something comforting about the stop and go of the traffic as he crawls towards his exit. You live in Chicago long enough, hell you visit Chicago enough, and you get used to the flex of your thigh muscle as you brake-accelerate-brake.
He creeps in increments towards the hotel, and the jitters set in as soon as he’s pulled up to valet. There’s a small group of fans outside, 88s and 19s on their sleeves, convention passes already hanging from their necks. Only a few look him over, and one group of girls approaches with Sharpies held out and 52 t-shirts on, sweeping their hair off their backs so he can scrawl his autograph across their shoulders. They’re sweet, and he’s flattered, but he’s so distracted by his nerves that he can’t make small talk, but he takes a picture with them before slinging the strap of his duffel bag over his shoulder and heading towards the doors.
There’s a front office guy with a clipboard waiting, marking Brandon’s name off of a list and passing him off to a lady in a skirt suit, name badge clipped to her jacket. She has a schedule for him, and a key card, and she escorts him up to his room, talking the whole time about the plan for the weekend. He tries to pay attention, because he wants to do a good job, but it sounds like this year will be the same as the one before, and the one before that. Good thing, because he tunes her out multiple times in the elevator.
It doesn’t help that they’re playing BHTV on the tiny video screens, and seeing his own face - and the faces of some of his teammates - is making the butterflies in his stomach go nuts.
The room is empty when they key inside, and the lady - Julie, according to her name tag - gives a quick look around and says, “Ben should arrive shortly. You all set?”
He looks down at the schedule and then back up at her face, and nods. “Yeah, I’m good.”
“Great. Media event is at 3PM in the Grand Ballroom. Players’ lounge is down there as well. We’ll have food and stuff set up for you, you can go down there whenever you’d like. Have a great weekend.”
Then she’s gone, the door to the room clicking closed behind her.
He drops his bag at the foot of the bed closest to the windows. He’s roomed with Ben before, on the road during the playoffs and before that with the Ice Hogs, so he knows Ben prefers the bed near the bathroom. Brandon’s glad to have a roommate he’s familiar with, one less thing to freak out about this weekend.
He takes a quick shower, to loosen himself up and because he’s feeling scuzzy in a way a four hour drive doesn’t really warrant. His stomach is still going nuts, and when he’s toweling himself off he starts hiccuping, and can’t stop.
He guzzles water from the bathroom tap, pinching his nose closed. He digs a penny out of his pants pocket, puts it between his toes, and guzzles another glass of water. The hiccups continue. He drinks another glass of water, tipped over at the waist so he’s nearly upside down, and water goes up his nose, making him cough and sputter.
His grandma had had one other cure for hiccups - other than the penny and the upside down thing - but he can’t remember what it is, so he calls his mom.
“Hey,” she says, voice warm, and Brandon sinks down on the edge of the bed, towel around his waist. He hiccups. “What kind of greeting is that?”
“Sorry ma,” he says, and hiccups again. “I’ve got the hiccups.”
She laughs. “You tried the penny?”
“Yeah, and the upside down thing. Nearly drowned myself, and I’m still hiccuping.” He hiccups again, as if to prove his point. “I can’t remember the third one.”
“Spoon to the temple,” she says, and he hiccups, making her laugh again.
“It’s not funny, ma.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry. Hiccups are no laughing matter.” But she still giggles when he hiccups down the phone, muffled like she’s pressing her hand to her mouth. He glares at the wall, and hopes she can feel his irritation from 300 miles away. “Your father always laughs at me when I have the hiccups, and it drives me up the wall. Probably because I had a serious hiccup issue when I was pregnant with you. And with your sister for that matter.”
Brandon’s eyes go wide, and he hiccups, and he and his mom are both silent for moment.
“You’re not,” she starts, and then doesn’t finish.
“No,” he says, quick and sharp, and then thinks about it. He tries to remember the last time - the last night of their postseason - but he was so drunk, he can barely remember anything. He hiccups again, and now every time his diaphragm jerks it sets off a spark of fear and nerves, like a ripple effect across his entire body. His stomach flips, and he hiccups, and he might be starting to hyperventilate.
He can’t be pregnant.
“Uh, I’ll try the spoon to the temple,” he says, voice a little shaky. He can practically hear his mom’s brain whirring, and he needs to go right the fuck now. “I’m settled in at the hotel, by the way. I’ll call you later.”
“Brandon,” she says, but he pretends not to hear her, says a hurried goodbye and ends the call.
His hands are shaking, and his mouth is watering. He hiccups again, and then rushes for the bathroom.
The vomiting stops the hiccups, at least.
This is not a conversation Brandon ever thought he’d have. Strike that, it’s not a conversation he ever thought he’d have to start. He’s pictured it before, women he’d taken home from the bar calling him up months later and saying, “I’m late.” You can use as much as protection as you want, but sometimes shit happens.
His idea of “shit happens” had never included getting drunk and fucking his teammate, or more appropriately letting them fuck him, and apparently not using protection.
It does now.
The elevator ride down to the players’ lounge is quick, the car dropping so fast Brandon’s ears pop, and his stomach is still so upset he has to press his knuckles to his mouth and swallow dry a few times to get it under control. There are people everywhere when the doors slide open, and he keeps his head ducked down, striding briskly towards the lounge.
It’s pretty crowded already, media and players and family milling around. Jonny’s already there, which doesn’t surprise Brandon at all, holding court with the owners in one corner, probably planning all the glad-handing they’ll have to do that weekend. Kaner’s there too, giving an interview, and Sharpy’s whole family is clustered near the food table, Maddy looking around like she’s at a zoo. It’s not far off, Brandon thinks, and makes his way through the room, pasting on a grin and greeting people as he goes.
He hears Shawzy before he sees him, and looks around for a garbage can, because he is definitely, totally going to puke again. He’s hovering near it, lips pressed together and sweat beading on his upper lip, when he catches Shawzy’s eye across the room.
Shawzy doesn’t hesitate in coming over, though his grin is tighter than usual, and his chin is held up at the angle that usually means he’s spoiling for a fight. Brandon knows they have to talk, even beyond the capital-t Talk; if they ignored each other people would figure out something was up pretty quickly.
“Hey,” Shawzy says, coming up next to Brandon with his hands shoved deep in his pants pockets.
“Hey,” Brandon says back, relieved that he’s able to open his mouth with losing the contents of his stomach.
“How’ve you been?”
Brandon’s mind races through all the possible answers to that question. He’s missed Shawzy, is the thing. They’d always been close, in regular contact via text when they weren’t literally sharing space. But after their last game - or rather their drunken post-game hookup - Brandon had driven back to St. Charles without saying goodbye, and hadn’t texted Shawzy once.
Shawzy hadn’t texted him either, though, and he looks defiant enough now that Brandon chooses what he thinks is a safer answer.
“Alright, I guess. You?”
Shawzy gives a shrug of his shoulders that’s clearly meant to be careless, a dismissal, but Brandon can see the tension in them. “Fine. Great.”
Shawzy is staring at him, and he resists the urge to look away, make his excuses and bolt. He can be an adult about this, he can.
“You not feeling well?” Shawzy asks, his eyes narrowing to slits, and Brandon’s stomach lurches.
“Uh, no,” he says, and takes a step back. “I’m actually not.”
“Jesus, Brandon, you look like you’re going to puke.” Shawzy’s tone gets softer with every word, and he pulls one of his hands out of his pocket, reaches towards Brandon like he can’t help it. Brandon backs further away, swallows the spit that is suddenly flooding his mouth.
“I gotta,” he says, and then turns and flees.
He forgives himself for running, because throwing up in a trash can in the players’ lounge, in front of Shawzy and Jonny and the bigwigs, would be pretty much the worst thing. Or maybe not the worst, considering his upset stomach might actually be pregnancy related.
The door to the bathroom swings open as he’s wiping his mouth with toilet paper, and he can hear the click of dress shoe heels on the tiled floor. He’s still on his knees in front of the toilet, toes of his own shoes sticking out under the stall door, and he leans forward a little to see who it is.
Not that he couldn’t have guessed.
“Brandon, let me in.” Shawzy raps lightly on the stall door, and Brandon drops his wad of toilet paper into the bowl and flushes. He pushes to his feet and takes a deep breath before unlocking the door and swinging it open.
He gets a brief glimpse of Shawzy’s drawn, concerned face, before he brushes past him, turning on the tap and cupping his hand under the faucet. He scoops cold water into his mouth, swishing and spitting once, then swallowing a few more mouthfuls, before splashing himself. He runs his wet hand down his face, blinking droplets out of his eyes, and blindly reaches for the paper towel dispenser.
“Here,” Shawzy says, just over his shoulder, and then there are fingers around his wrist, directing him to the handle.
When he’s dry and slightly more composed he turns around and leans back against the sink, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You okay?” Shawzy asks, and his voice is still soft, eyebrows drawn together. Like a little vomit is going to clear up six weeks of not talking. Brandon wishes it was that easy.
“No,” he says, and grits his teeth. He’s fought a lot of imposing dudes in his hockey career, and loved every second of it. He shouldn’t be this intimidated by short, scrawny Shawzy, or the few little words he’s about to force out of his mouth. “I think I’m pregnant.”
Shawzy’s eyes go comically wide. Like literally cartoon-style wide. Brandon waits for them to pop right out, bulging. They don’t, and Shawzy squeezes them closed, then exhales sharply.
“Don’t pass out,” Brandon says, and Shawzy’s eyes pop back open.
“I know. Did we not … “ He trails off, hands making shapes in front of him without his control. He waves one at Shawzy’s crotch. “You know.”
Shawzy looks down at his pants, then back up at Brandon. “I don’t remember.”
“Me neither, but it sure seems like we didn’t.”
“Are you sure? I mean, did you take a test?”
Brandon shakes his head, and Shawzy’s shoulders slump in relief. “That doesn’t mean I’m not.”
“But it could.”
He’s got a point. The stomach thing could genuinely be the flu. The hiccups could be nerves. Brandon doesn’t think so, he’s got a feeling about it, something settled in his gut that he can’t quite explain, especially when everything else is so totally, royally fucked.
“It could,” he allows, dropping his hands. “I guess I’ll have to run out after the opening ceremonies to get a test.”
“Where are you going to go? You can’t be seen buying a male pregnancy test around here, Brandon, someone will see you. The picture will be up online before you can make it back to the hotel.”
It’s a fair point, and Brandon chews his lip, thinking.
“I’ll have to get one of the front office guys to do it for me,” he says, and Shawzy rakes his fingers through his hair, his face pale. It’s not ideal, but Brandon wants to be sure. He pushes away from the sink, heads towards the door. Shawzy reaches out and clamps a hand around Brandon’s elbow.
“Brandon,” he says, but then doesn’t seem to know how to finish. Brandon shakes his arm loose and leaves the bathroom.
Peeing on a stick when you have a penis isn’t difficult, per se, but it’s definitely messy. There’s splashing. Brandon scrubs his hands clean and hopes Ben doesn’t come back up to the room before the two minutes are up.
Shawzy is pacing the room, close to the walls and furniture, skirting the alcove by the door like a mall walker. Brandon wants to make a joke about velour tracksuits, but he bites his tongue. Now is not the time to lighten the mood with humor. Now is definitely the time for the mood to be dark as fuck.
He drops onto the edge of Ben’s bed, ignoring the scowl he gets from Shawzy when he interrupts his route, and stares at his watch.
There’s thirty seconds left when Shawzy stops, his knees next to Brandon’s, and says, “What do we do if it’s positive?”
Brandon has literally no idea. He looks up at Shawzy, at the raw fear on his face, and shrugs. He glances back at his watch. “Time’s up.”
He can’t look. He absolutely cannot look. The stick is balanced on the edge of the sink, peed on part hanging over the bowl. He can’t look at it. What if it’s positive?
Something at the very back of his mind answers back. What if it’s negative?
He has a feeling that he’s screwed either way.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Shawzy says, and shoves past Brandon, grabbing for the stick and nearly knocking it off the counter. He squints down at it and then goes white as the towels hanging behind him.
“So?” Brandon asks, even though he’s pretty sure he can infer the answer from the look on Shawzy’s face.
Shawzy doesn’t speak, but his throat is working convulsively when he hands the stick out for Brandon to take. He pinches it between his forefinger and thumb and holds it up in front of his face.
The little pink plus seems to jump out at him, making him stumble back until his legs hit the edge of a bed and buckle. He sinks down with the stick on his knee, staring blankly ahead. He’s pregnant.
“I’m pregnant,” he says, because even if his voice is croaky from shock he needs to say the words out loud. More verification that this is in fact happening to him. There is a baby inside of him at this very moment.
He’s flooded with worry, panic crackling across his nerve endings. How many times has he gotten drunk in the last six weeks? How much coffee has he drank? How much fast food has he consumed? What if he’s fucked the baby up already?
The baby. Fuck.
“We’re having a baby,” he says, and finally focuses on Shawzy. It’s crazy, and it’s freaking him the fuck out, and they’re not even together, they just fucked once, but Brandon’s heart feels a little achey in a good way, and he kind of wants to smile.
Shawzy definitely does not look like he wants to smile.
“How do you know it’s mine?” he asks, and Brandon goes cold all over. His stomach clenches up, and even though he hasn’t eaten anything all day - shit, he should really eat, that can’t be good for the baby, oh god - he wants to throw up again.
“What do you mean, how do I know? Unless someone injected me with sperm at some point without me noticing, I’m pretty sure you’re the only candidate.”
Shawzy grimaces, at the imagery maybe, or at the idea of being the father. Brandon doesn’t know, and he doesn’t care. He’s not sure why the implication pisses him off so much; it was a one-time deal, there could’ve been others, Shawzy couldn’t know. Maybe it’s because Brandon’s starting to realize that there really couldn’t have been anyone else. Not for him. Or maybe it’s because it feels like Shawzy trying to get out of being responsible. Whatever it is it’s making Brandon’s fingers clench into fists on his knees and his stomach roll.
“You didn’t fuck anyone else?”
“You mean I didn’t let anyone else fuck me?” Brandon says, challenging. Shawzy clenches his jaw and drops his eyes.
“No, Shawzy, no one else has fucked me in years. Sorry. It’s yours.”
“You don’t,” Shawzy says, and then swallows. “You don’t have to apologize.”
Shawzy comes and sits next to Brandon on the bed, and he doesn’t leave any space between them. He presses right up to Brandon’s side, his thigh warm and solid against Brandon’s. Brandon’s still reeling a little, but having Shawzy right there makes something settle inside him.
“I can’t believe we didn’t use something,” Shawzy says, and Brandon exhales sharply through his nose.
“I can’t believe we did it in the first place.”
Shawzy huffs quietly, and shifts away, putting an inch of space between them. Brandon can feel the air conditioning through his pants, leeching the warmth from where Shawzy’d been pressed to him. He shoves up from the bed and paces away, throwing the pregnancy test into the sink.
“What do you want to do?” Brandon asks, and when he turns back around Shawzy’s shoulders are curled forward, making him look even smaller. He shrugs them, picks at the knee of his pants.
“What do you want to do?” Shawzy counters. He looks up. “It’s your body.”
“The baby’s half yours, though,” Brandon says. He knows it’s ultimately his decision, but he wants to know what Shawzy wants.
“I don’t want to influence your decision.”
“I don’t want to influence yours.”
“Fine, just,” Shawzy rolls his eyes, then his shoulders. “On three. Say what you want to do.”
Shawzy’s face is all challenge, and he starts. “One.”
Brandon’s heart thumps. What if Shawzy says he wants to get rid of it?
He swallows thickly, his throat sticking. He feels like throwing up again.
“Keep it,” he blurts, at the same time Shawzy says the same thing. Brandon gapes at him, and Shawzy’s cheeks go red, but he keeps his chin tipped up.
“Good,” he says, and gets to his feet. “That’s decided.”
He starts toward the door, Brandon still staring after him. “Where are you going?”
“We’re going to be late for the Second City thing,” Shawzy says, and Brandon presses one hand over his eyes. He has to go try to be funny. He’ll be lucky if he remembers all the lines they’d given him, to not throw up on stage. He grabs the stick out of the sink and wraps it in toilet paper, shoving it into his pocket. He follows Shawzy out of the room and down the hall, and drops the test in the garbage can outside the elevator.
The improv show goes fine, better than if the audience reaction is anything to go by. Brandon remembers everything he’s supposed to do, and the adrenaline rush of being on stage overrides the nerves and the nausea and everything else. He doesn’t think about being pregnant, or Shawzy, or anything else other than putting on a good show.
“That was hilarious,” Ben says after, clapping Brandon on the back. He’s grinning ear to ear, enthusiastic as ever, and Brandon grins back, sweaty from the lights and the exertion of the game of charades they’d just completed. “Now we can go drink, yeah?”
“Yes please,” Hayesy says, and Shawzy throws a wide-eyed glance in Brandon’s direction.
Brandon can’t decide which will be more suspicious - him not going out or him going out and not drinking. Neither of those things are the norm for him, especially on convention weekend. It’s basically a three day bender for the team, reunited in their city with no games to play for months. Sitting on a panel is way easier with a hangover than skating ever will be, and they’ve always taken full advantage of that.
“I’m actually really tired,” Brandon tries, and he knows it’s lame. The looks he gets in return confirms how lame it is. But it’s definitely not a lie. He’s exhausted really, worn out from the drive and the shock of the day, from the performance and from being sick all day. He tries to look as droopy as possible, frowning at Ben’s disappointed face.
“You’re kidding, right?” Hayesy asks, and Shawzy lifts up on his tiptoes, tries to get Hayesy in a headlock.
“Cut him some slack,” he says, grabbing at Hayesy’s neck. “Brandon’s getting old. He can’t help it.”
“Hey,” Brandon says, but he’s relieved, and tries to relay it with his eyes when Shawzy glances over before starting to drag Hayesy away.
“Come on, Smitty, time to get loose,” Shawzy calls, and Ben taps his fist to Brandon’s shoulders.
“Get some rest,” he says, earnest and sincere because he just can’t help it, and then dashes off.
The bed is too squishy - a complaint Brandon always has about hotel beds - but he still manages to fall asleep pretty quickly. He’s always been good at turning off his brain when he needs to sleep, a product of years of hockey, he’s sure. Hockey players need a lot of sleep.
He usually sleeps like the dead, but he wakes up when the hotel room door clicks open. He’s expecting Ben to stumble in, do the thing where he tries to be quiet and fails. He’s one of those people that kicks his shoes off too hard, and Brandon waits for the clunk of them hitting the wall.
Instead there’s a little rustling, socked feet on the plush hotel carpet, and then the dip of Brandon’s mattress. Brandon reaches back to shove at Ben, who must’ve forgotten his bed is near the bathroom. Which would be weird because his bed is always the one near the bathroom. Brandon’s hand collides with a muscled arm, and he pushes against it.
“Smitty. This isn’t your bed, man.”
“Not Smitty,” the voice attached to the arm says, and that’s definitely Shawzy’s gruff voice, made gruffer by alcohol and a night of shouting over loud music. Brandon shivers, and shoves harder.
“What are you doing, Shawzy?”
“Shut up,” he says, and drags Brandon’s hand away from his arm. He’s not slurring, but the closer he gets to Brandon’s back the more he reeks of liquor. He holds Brandon’s wrist in one hand and slides across the mattress, bare chest pressing slowly against Brandon’s bare back. Brandon starts to wiggle away and Shawzy drops Brandon’s wrist in favor of throwing his arm over Brandon’s waist. “Stop it.”
“What are you doing?” Brandon asks again, and Shawzy sighs, his alcohol-scented breath wafting over Brandon’s cheek.
“Sleeping,” Shawzy says, voice firm like that’s the end of it, but it’s really fucking not.
“Why are you here? Where’s Ben?”
“My room. I told him he’s too loud when he’s drunk and you really need your sleep. Which you do, so shut up and sleep.”
“Fuck you, shut up. We are not sleeping together.” Brandon punctuates his sentence with another wiggle, prying Shawzy’s arm away from his skin.
Shawzy clamps a leg over Brandon’s hip, and Brandon can feel Shawzy’s dick pressing against his ass through two layers of boxer briefs. It’s not hard, but it still makes Brandon freeze. Shawzy gets him wrapped up, surrounding Brandon with his limbs, and one hand splays out over Brandon’s belly button.
Brandon stops breathing and doesn’t fight back. It’s nice, is the thing, to have Shawzy all over him and his hand spread out over - and if this isn’t the sappiest fucking thing to think, but at least Brandon can blame it on the hormones - over their baby.
Maybe he can have this for one night, if he can just keep his rebellious mouth shut.
“Go to sleep, Brandon,” Shawzy says, scratchy voice right in Brandon’s ear, and Brandon squeezes his eyes closed, willing, for once, to just keep quiet and obey.
The phone rings early, and Brandon groans, hand snaking out from under the blankets and reaching out towards it. He doesn’t get far, because he’s got a warm, solid weight against his back and limbs like vice grips around his middle.
“What the fuck,” comes a grumble from behind his shoulder, and Brandon shoves at the forearm locked around his waist.
“Shawzy, it’s the wake up call.”
“Tell it to fuck off.”
Brandon grins, and drags Shawzy across the mattress, still clamped onto Brandon’s body like a barnacle. Brandon may have several pounds of muscle on Shawzy, but the kid knows how to make himself a dead weight when he wants to. Brandon snags the handset and holds it up to his ear, even though he knows it’s just going to be a recorded wake up message.
“You didn’t tell them to fuck off,” Shawzy says, and Brandon feels the prickle of stubble rasp against the back of his neck.
“It’s a recording. Did you just wipe your drool on me?”
“No,” Shawzy says, and peels away from Brandon. He’s lying, Brandon can feel the wetness on his skin.
“You’re disgusting,” Brandon says, and turns over to watch Shawzy flip him off as he crawls out of bed.
“Make me coffee,” Shawzy says, and retreats into the bathroom, leaving the door cracked open.
It’s freakily normal, waking up with Shawzy. All the nerves of the day before are gone, and Brandon’s stomach even feels more settled than it has since he got to Chicago. Brandon scratches his chest, and stares at the ceiling, listening to Shawzy flush the toilet and run the water in the sink. He’s still lying there when Shawzy comes out of the bathroom, hair sticking up and one leg of his boxer briefs twisted around his thigh. He looks skinny, still lean and muscled but not as defined as he is at the beginning of the season. Brandon knows he’s not as cut, either, because everyone loses some muscle mass at the end of the season, not as much time to lift and train, but Shawzy’s smaller than him in the first place, so he thinks it’s more pronounced.
“You’re not making coffee.”
“I need water for that, dipshit, and the only sink is in the bathroom.”
Shawzy tilts his head, conceding the point. Brandon pushes to his feet, fully intent on taking his own piss and then filling the carafe to make Shawzy his precious coffee. Shawzy’s eyes flick down to Brandon’s stomach, then back up to his eyes.
“I want us to be together,” Shawzy says, blurts more like, and waves his hand at Brandon’s midsection. “For the, you know.”
Brandon’s heart leaps into his throat, then sinks down into his stomach. Of course Shawzy would want that. To “do the right thing.” He’s a good guy, Brandon should’ve been expecting it.
“Don’t do me any favors,” Brandon says, maybe a little bitter, and rounds the foot of the bed, sidesteps Shawzy and goes into the bathroom, closing and locking the door behind himself to make a point.
Shawzy’s dressed when Brandon comes out, having brushed his teeth and splashed his face with water. He’s sitting on Ben’s still neatly made bed, and it looks like he’s been pulling at his own hair.
“Are you pissed at me?” Shawzy asks, chin tipped up. His jaw is tight, and Brandon simultaneously wants to kiss him and punch him right in the mouth.
“Yup,” Brandon says, and crosses his arms over his bare chest. He’s not getting dressed until he can shower, but he feels exposed standing there in just his boxer briefs while Shawzy’s wearing his wrinkled clothes from the day before.
“Wanna tell me why?”
“Wanna tell me why you crawled into my bed drunk last night?”
Shawzy blows out a sigh, but he rolls his eyes at the same time. “Like I ever know why I do shit when I’m drunk,” he says, and he’s not lying. Brandon’s seen him dance on tables and crowd surf and climb trees and light poles, he knows how Shawzy gets. But mischief on the streets when you’ve had a few is different from cuddling your teammate - the teammate you knocked up, nonetheless.
“You basically force-snuggled me.”
Shawzy grimaces. “Sorry?”
It’s Brandon’s turn to roll his eyes, and he takes great pleasure in doing so. “I didn’t hate it.”
“If you’re fine with snuggling then why are you mad that I think we should be together?”
There are so many reasons, but the main one is that Brandon’s 99.9% sure that his feelings for Shawzy go beyond “would fuck” or “have fucked and would fuck again” or whatever. They’re more than physical. Having his baby is complicated enough for Brandon to contemplate, but being in some sham relationship with him at the same time would dance right over the complicated line into really fucking unhealthy territory.
“I don’t think children benefit from parents that are together just for their sakes,” Brandon says, and Shawzy’s jaw clenches, eyes narrowing.
“Fine.” He stands, props his hands on his hips and glares. Brandon’s stomach is starting to roll again, and he takes a step back towards the bathroom. “You might want to mess this bed up before Ben comes back. I ordered you breakfast.” And then he’s gone.
Brandon yanks at the covers of Ben’s bed, shoving the pillows around a little. Then he goes to throw up.
They barely speak for the rest of the convention. Brandon goes out with the guys Saturday night, but he makes his own trips to the bar and orders soda, asking the bartender to put a lime wedge in it and passes it off as whiskey and Coke. Shawzy watches him closely as he drinks the first one, eyebrows pulled together in the middle, and only relaxes when Brandon yanks him aside in the hallway outside the bathrooms, waving his glass under his nose and saying, “You dick, it’s just soda. You think I’m going to fuck this up at all, you’re an asshole.”
Shawzy mutters an apology but pulls away sharply, mouth in a thin line, before going back to their table.
After the last panel on Sunday Brandon makes the rounds, saying goodbye. He begs off any extracurriculars by moaning about his drive home. He gets a few narrow-eyed looks, Sharpy in particular making that terrifying face that means he knows you’re up to something, but he escapes relatively unscathed. He does the back-slap, one-armed hug routine with Shawzy, because they’re being watched, and mumbles something about keeping in touch.
Then he bolts.
He blasts the music the whole drive home, and doesn’t think about his mom until he’s pulling up to her house. The terror that hits him is breathtaking and overwhelming.
“Would you like to explain to me why you didn’t return any of my phone calls this weekend?” is the first thing she asks when he steps into the kitchen, and he braves stepping into her space to give her a kiss on the cheek.
“I have no good explanation,” he says, and drops into a kitchen chair. “But you know the hiccups?”
They stare at each other for a moment, and then she drops her head back, looking up at the ceiling. “Oh Brandon,” she says, voice unreadable.
When she looks at him again her eyes are shining with tears. His heart thumps in his chest and his eyes burn. He hates it when his mom cries. “Oh Brandon,” she says again, and then she’s got her arms around his neck, sniffling into his hair.
“Are you happy?” she asks, pulling back and getting her own chair, pulling it close to his so she can take his hand. He thinks about his answer, because it’s not as simple as happy or sad, excited or disappointed or one of many other words that just don’t seem to do the situation justice.
“I’m keeping it,” is what he chooses to say. “We both want to.”
She nods, pressing her lips together. “I’m glad,” she says, and then breaks out into a wobbly smile. “I’m going to be a grandma.”
He laughs, a little shaky and wet, and scrubs a hand over his eyes. “You are. And I’m going to be a dad.”
She helps him set up his doctor’s appointment, because he has not the first clue where to start, and she’s been through the whole process twice. It’s fairly simple, the first one, another test to confirm what the drugstore test had said, and then a list of things he should and shouldn’t be doing.
He and his mom go out to lunch after, and he dicks around with his phone under the table the whole time, pulling up Shawzy’s contact page and then locking the screen, swiping it unlocked and opening a new message, locking it again.
“Just call him,” his mom says, spearing a cherry tomato with her fork and rolling her eyes. She’d taken the news of who the other father was pretty well. According to her it was obvious. Brandon isn’t thinking about that statement at all.
Brandon glares guiltily, and tucks his phone between his knees, bringing both hands up above the table and reaching for his water glass. “Come on, Brandon, what is this? You don’t scare easily. He made the decision with you to keep this baby, he deserves to know that you’ve seen a doctor.”
Brandon frowns down at his plate petulantly. She’s right, of course, but it’s not that easy.
His mother sighs, and reaches over to touch his wrist. “Eat. Call him after.”
He does just that, going up to his room once they’re home and closing the door, sitting on the floor with his back to the bed, thumbing his phone screen on.
It only rings once before Shawzy answers, and Brandon’s throat sticks as he swallows.
“Hey,” he says, and Shawzy parrots it back, then goes quiet, expectant. “I, uh, I saw a doctor today.”
“Oh god, is everything okay?”
The worry in Shawzy’s voice makes something loosen up in Brandon’s chest, and he slumps back against his bed. “Yeah, yeah, sorry, everything’s fine. Just the first visit, you know? Took another test, got told I can’t have caffeine anymore, or lift as much weight.”
“Jesus, Brandon.” Shawzy breathes hard in his ear a little, then chuckles. “You gonna survive not being able to dead lift like a thousand pounds? If you can’t flex your biceps in everyone’s faces what will you do to amuse yourself?”
“Ha ha,” Brandon says, and smiles at his closed door.
“You’re not mad anymore, then?”
“Nah,” Brandon says, because he’s not. He’s more sad, if he really stops to think about it. Because he wants what Shawzy’s offering, but not on these terms. And these are the terms available, because of the baby he’s currently carrying. He puts his hand on his stomach, over his shirt, and tries to picture it, a little bean of a person growing inside.
It’s fucking freaky.
“You were just trying to do the right thing,” Brandon says, and Shawzy’s exhales loudly again, but doesn’t say anything for a beat.
“Yeah,” is what he says eventually, and he sounds tired.
“Anyway, just thought you’d want to know. They confirmed that I’m about six weeks along, and I go back in a few weeks for another check-up.”
“A few weeks? Isn’t that kind of long?”
“I guess not? Apparently I only have to see the doctor once a month.”
“That seems long to me.”
It had seemed long to Brandon too, but his mother had assured him it was normal. She’s currently in the basement, digging through boxes to find her old pregnancy books for Brandon to read. He’s going to have to buy a few new ones, because the older books have less information about male pregnancies, but they’ll be a good start.
“I want to come,” Shawzy says, breaking into Brandon’s thoughts.
“Down to St. Charles? For my checkup? That’s stupid, it’s a long flight for a short appointment.”
“I don’t care. Send me the date, I’m coming. This is my baby, too, I don’t want to miss everything.” He’s gearing up for a fight, Brandon can tell, his voice getting louder and rougher in Brandon’s ear. Usually he’d rise to the occasion, but Shawzy’s right. It’s his baby, too.
“Okay,” Brandon says, and he can almost hear Shawzy deflating on the other end. “I’ll send you the date.”
The silence after that is awkward, and Brandon’s exhausted, ready for a nap. He says so, and Shawzy laughs down the line. “Get some sleep, grandpa,” he says, then goes quiet. “Or dad, I guess.”
Brandon feels like he’s been punched in the chest. “Fuck,” he says, and Shawzy echoes it back, sounding as breathless as Brandon feels.
“Yeah, that’s fucking weird,” he says. “I’m going now.”
And then he hangs up. Brandon stares at his phone, then gets to his feet only to flop down on the mattress, tucking his phone under his pillow and pushing the conversation out of his head so he can go to sleep.
The next couple of weeks are punctuated by approximately one million text messages from Shawzy.
Don’t eat fish asshole is one of them, the lack of punctuation making Brandon snort. It’s quickly followed up with, correct my grammar and ill punch you thru the phone.
Brandon writes back, Your lack of commas is alarming, just FYI.
He gets about a dozen middle finger emojis in return, and puts his phone face down on the kitchen table.
have u started ur arobics yet???? is another, and Brandon rolls his eyes. Shawzy must be doing a lot of internet research about pregnancy.
Yes, I have a hot pink leotard and leg warmers. No, you dick, I’m not doing aerobics.
He waits a few seconds and then types another message. But I am doing yoga.
Shawzy calls him that time just to laugh down the phone.
“Fuck off, people are going to appreciate my bendiness,” Brandon says, and that shuts Shawzy right up.
“You’re an asshole,” he says, and then hangs up. Brandon grins to himself.
r u constipated hahahahaha??? comes one early Saturday morning, and Brandon rolls his eyes at his phone screen and doesn’t justify that one with an answer at all. More than likely Shawzy was drunk at his cottage, surrounded by bros and swilling cheap beer from a can, and Brandon wouldn’t indulge his childish humor.
legit question comes in at a reasonable hour in the afternoon, and Brandon sighs before typing back.
No, I’m not, but thanks for asking.
Brandon’s phone rings late in his ninth week, and he’s not surprised to see Shawzy’s name flash on the screen. He’s lounging in bed, reading one of his pregnancy books, and he swipes to accept the call, tucking the phone between his ear and his pillow.
“Hi Shawzy,” he says, and Shawzy basically explodes in his ear.
“How is the first trimester so fucking long? Jesus, anything can fucking happen until you’re out of it and you have wait four more fucking weeks? That’s fucking ridiculous.”
“Whoa,” Brandon says, sitting up and clamping the phone to his ear. “What is all this?”
“Aren’t you freaked out? You’re like a time bomb, basically.”
“Thanks for that.” Brandon takes a deep, slow breath, hoping Shawzy will mimic him. It’s one of the tricks he uses when they’re together in person, when Shawzy’s getting worked up about a game or something on TV, or an argument they’re having while they’re out drinking. Usually if Brandon starts deep breathing Shawzy will too, subconsciously matching his rhythm to Brandon’s and calming down because of it. It seems to work now, too, Shawzy breathing along with him, whooshing against the mic of the phone.
“Sorry, it’s just, I’ve been doing so much reading, and it’s freaking me out.”
Brandon doesn’t want to laugh, because Shawzy is clearly taking this seriously, and it’s nice, actually, that he is. “You hate to read,” he says, because it’s true. Shawzy talks about it all the time, how he can never focus long enough on words on a page.
“Yeah, well. Can’t have you knowing more than me,” he grumbles, and Brandon smiles. He wants Shawzy here with him, not thousands of miles away, just a gruff voice over a phone line.
“I miss you,” Brandon says, words slipping out before he can stop them. He’s getting sappy, fucking hormones, and his filters are failing him more often. His mom calls it baby brain. He calls it really inconvenient.
Shawzy doesn’t reply right away, and Brandon’s about to take the words back, or cover them up with a joke, start an argument as a distraction. Then Shawzy says, “I miss you, too.” And Brandon can’t think of anything to say. “I bet you’re getting fat,” Shawzy follows up with, cackling down the phone, and Brandon squeezes his eyes shut, tamps down on his disappointment.
“Fuck you, I’m built as ever.”
“Yeah, the yoga’s great for muscle building, I’ve heard.”
“Shut up, yoga is awesome.”
They bicker a little more, and then Brandon yawns so big his jaw cracks, and Shawzy gets quiet.
“Take a nap,” he says, and his voice is softer than Brandon’s used to, warmer in Brandon’s ear.
“Yeah, fine,” Brandon says, and then, “Bye.”
Brandon hangs up, but he stares at his phone for a long time before he slides down between the sheets and lets his eyes slip closed.
Shawzy’s flight gets in early, and he insists on booking a shuttle to Brandon’s because he wants Brandon to sleep in. Brandon’s wide awake anyway, stretched out on the couch with a movie on Netflix, when the van pulls up in front of the house, and he’s at the door before Shawzy’s even all the way up the front walk.
“You are fat,” Shawzy says, gleeful, looking Brandon up and down.
“Fuck you,” Brandon says, but he reaches out to pull Shawzy into a hug anyway. Shawzy is gentle, pressing his arms against Brandon’s back but not squeezing, and then lets him go fast.
“Okay, fine, you’re not fat. In fact, you’re glowing.”
Brandon rolls his eyes. “Well, I was glad to see you.”
Shawzy laughs, and then hefts his bag up from the sidewalk. “Invite me in, asshole.”
Brandon’s mom is on her way to work already, so Brandon offers Shawzy the coffee left over in the pot, which he refuses, and then takes him on a tour. The house isn’t big, but it makes Brandon happy to show off where he grew up, all the photos and trophies and memorabilia. Shawzy laughs at Brandon’s baby pictures, up on the wall in the hallway along with his sister’s.
“Shut up, you better hope our baby looks like me,” Brandon says, fucking filters failing him again, and Shawzy goes quiet, staring up at the picture.
“I do,” he says, and Brandon can’t meet his eyes.
His doctor’s appointment isn’t until the next day, and Brandon has no idea what Shawzy has in mind for his free time.
“You want to sleep, or eat, or what?” Brandon asks, after Shawzy’s been set up in Brandon’s sister’s old room and they’re standing in the living room again.
“Don’t you want to show me around St. Charles?” Shawzy asks, flopping back on the couch. Brandon’s movie is still paused on the television screen.
“Do you want to see St. Charles?”
“Nah,” Shawzy says, and kicks his feet up onto the coffee table. “Let’s watch the rest of this shitty movie and then catch the Cards game tonight or something.”
That’s what they end up doing, sitting on opposite sides of the couch while the movie plays out, and it’s not that shitty but it’s not great either. Afterwards they have lunch, Shawzy leaning against the kitchen counter and supervising Brandon throwing together sandwiches.
“You’re not supposed to be eating deli meat,” he says, and Brandon throws a piece of lettuce at him.
“Relax, this is turkey my mom cooked herself. Jesus.” Brandon slaps the second piece of bread onto Shawzy’s sandwich and thrusts it at him. “Put this in your face so you stop talking.”
Shawzy takes a huge bite, and then proceeds to tell Brandon all about his flight with turkey bits flying out of his mouth.
Brandon still wants to kiss him. Pregnancy hormones are the worst.
They show up early to the ballpark and get tickets from a scalper, and Shawzy insists on paying. Brandon thinks about arguing, but Shawzy’s got his game face on, rigid jaw and glinting eyes, so Brandon backs down. He’s starting to learn when to pick his fights, and Shawzy’s contract is fatter than Brandon’s anyway.
Especially considering Brandon won’t be able to play a lot of the next season.
His stomach drops, and Shawzy must notice, because he presses up close to Brandon’s side as they make their way towards the turnstiles. “Getting sick?”
“No, just, uh,” Brandon starts, darting his eyes around. There are people lining up in front of them, but they should be out of earshot if Brandon keeps quiet. “Thinking about next season.”
Shawzy’s eyebrows draw together in confusion, and Brandon gives his stomach a fleeting touch, hidden by a baggy jersey. It’s not big by any means, but it’s fleshier than Brandon’s used to. Shawzy’s eyes get wide with realization. “Oh shit, dude,” he says, and Brandon nods. “I didn’t even think.”
“It’s okay,” Brandon says, as they hold out their tickets to be scanned. “Let’s just enjoy the game.”
Shawzy buys him a bottle of water, and a chicken sandwich, and then an ice cream. He’s being indulgent, and Brandon likes it. Too much, maybe, if the warmth that spreads through his chest when Shawzy flags the peanut guy down and catches a bag of Cracker Jack, ripping it open before handing it to Brandon, is anything to go by.
The game is awesome, the Cards trounce the Brewers - big shock - and Shawzy buys himself a hat, jamming it backwards onto his head and grinning at Brandon, his eyes bright under the St. Louis logo.
“I think I’ll take it home and burn it,” Shawzy says, tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth, and Brandon has to grip his knees so he doesn’t maul him right there in front of 35,000 people.
They tiptoe up to their rooms like kids sneaking in after curfew, because Brandon’s mom is already asleep. Brandon’s room is first in the hallway, and Shawzy hesitates in front of the door, ballcap on crooked and lips pulled between his teeth.
“Good night,” Brandon says, almost a question, and Shawzy nods, a quick jerk of his head.
“Yeah, ‘night,” he says, and then goes off down the hall to his room. Brandon watches him go, and wants to follow him so badly his feet almost move on their own.
He doesn’t exactly get the best night’s sleep. He leaves his door cracked open, because he’s entertaining some ridiculous rom com idea that Shawzy might creep down the hall and climb into his bed at some point in the middle of the night. He doesn’t, and Brandon wakes up cranky.
It better be a mood swing, because if he’s this disappointed that Shawzy didn’t want to sleep with him than he’s pathetic.
Shawzy’s already awake, sitting at the kitchen table in a threadbare tee shirt and flannel pants, feet bare on the tiled floor and hands wrapped around a mug of coffee. Brandon can’t drink coffee, and that makes him crankier.
“Morning,” Shawzy says, in his stupid gruff voice, and Brandon twists the tap on the kitchen sink viciously, glaring at his water glass as it fills. He doesn’t respond, and he can hear Shawzy shifting in his chair. “Wake up on the wrong side of the bed?”
Brandon turns around, leaning back against the counter, and glares while he sips water.
“Okay,” Shawzy says, lifting his eyebrows and looking away, and his face is making Brandon want to put his fist through a wall.
He makes eggs instead, trying to get the same satisfaction out of cracking eggs that he would get cracking Shawzy’s teeth. It dulls his bad mood slightly, and eating helps more. Taking his prenatal vitamins also helps, even though he’s irritated when Shawzy takes the bottles and inspects them.
“Just looking, dude, put the crazy eyes away,” Shawzy says, shoving the bottles back across the table. “Is this something I can expect for the next eight months? You being an intolerable bastard in the morning?”
“Who says it’ll just be in the morning?” Brandon asks, snotty. And then, “And why would you have to worry about it, it’s not like you’ll be here for the whole thing.”
Shawzy grips his mug a little tighter, pulls it closer to his chest, like he’s trying to leech the warmth from the coffee straight into his skin. “I was thinking,” he starts, and then looks up at Brandon. Brandon arches an eyebrow. “I don’t want to miss shit, Brandon.”
“You can’t stay here for eight months, Andrew,” Brandon says, stressing Shawzy’s name. He rarely ever uses it. He wonders if that’s weird.
“I know that.” Shawzy’s getting pissy, which normally Brandon loves. Right now it’s making frustration burn under Brandon’s skin. “But I can get a place nearby, or you could come up to Ontario. Or we could both go back to Chicago. You should talk to the team doctors anyway, don’t you think? Or Q, Stan, the management? They’ve gotta know. And they could find you doctors there, good ones.”
“My doctor here is good,” Brandon says, but he gets what Shawzy’s saying. And surprisingly he’s liking the idea, too. His mom is great but she’s got her own shit going on. And every summer he misses Shawzy like a phantom limb, he should be jumping at the chance to spend this one together.
Even if it is just for the baby.
Shawzy just watches Brandon, like he can see the wheels turning in his head. For all that Shawzy loves to yap he’s gotten pretty good at waiting quietly for Brandon to figure things out. Usually he’s just waiting for Brandon to pick a bar or a movie or something, but even with this much larger, important decision he seems content to sip his coffee and wait Brandon out.
“It’s probably not a bad idea to visit the team doctors,” Brandon says, grudgingly. And then, even more grudgingly, “And I’ve always wanted to see your cottage.”
Shawzy breaks into a grin, because he fucking loves his cottage more than anything other than hockey maybe. “Maybe we can hang there for a little after this? Then go to Chicago for your next checkup?”
Brandon sighs, because it’s a good plan, but he hates giving into Shawzy that easily. “Let’s get through this checkup first. Talk to my doctor, see what he thinks. Then we can decide.”
Shawzy finishes his coffee in one big gulp, and gets up to put his mug in the sink. “I’m showering first,” he says, and brushes his fingers over Brandon’s shoulder on the way out of the kitchen.
The muffled sound of the shower turning on filters down a few minutes later, and Brandon puts his head down on the table, both hands spread out over the slight bump of his stomach.
The checkup goes well, all things considered, but it’s still really fucking weird.
First, Brandon has to strip down and put on one of those awful paper gowns that gape open everywhere and itch like crazy. Shawzy has the decency to turn his back while Brandon gets undressed, but he catches a glimpse of Brandon’s bare ass anyway, when Brandon’s climbing onto the examination table.
Second, the doctor gives Shawzy the eyeball as soon as he comes in the door, and Brandon has to figure out how to introduce him. Finally the doctor puts Brandon out of his misery by guessing Shawzy’s “the other father,” but that brings a whole fresh wave of feelings that Brandon is entirely ill-equipped to deal with.
Third, one of the questions the doctor asks is, “How are your nipples feeling?” Brandon’s face flames, and Shawzy coughs into his fist, and the doctor looks like he’s about half a second away from rolling his eyes at the both of them.
“It’s common for men to feel some soreness in their nipples around this time in their pregnancies,” the doctor says, and Brandon clears his throat.
“They’ve been tingly?” he offers, because he had noticed it the other day, and just chalked it up to an unseasonable breeze.
The doctor nods. “Totally normal. We only bring it up so that you’re not alarmed. That may continue.”
Brandon really needs the nipple conversation to end.
Except then the doctor starts in about having sex while pregnant, and now Shawzy’s cheeks are going bright red under his atrocious two-day stubble, and while Brandon really needs to not be hearing his doctor talk about increased libido being common once the morning sickness ends in front of his … baby daddy, or whatever Shawzy is.
Teammate. Friend. Who is also the father of Brandon’s baby, and probably the only person Brandon has fallen in love with since figuring out what it really means.
Brandon would really like the floor of the examination room to crack down the middle and swallow him up.
The doctor clears Brandon for travel, saying he won’t have to worry about that until much later in his pregnancy, and offers to find Brandon someone in Belleville, if he should need something while he’s there. Brandon thanks him, because even though he plans on being in actual civilization before he needs his next checkup it would be nice to have someone on call just in case.
“So,” Shawzy says, as they’re making their way out to the parking lot. Brandon braces himself for a nipple joke, or a sex drive joke, or basically a joke of any kind. Instead Shawzy decides to be decent for once in his irritating life, and says, “Let’s talk to your mom and then book some flights.”
Shawzy ducks his head, fiddling with Brandon’s car keys. He’s been driving everywhere, like being pregnant makes Brandon incapable of operating an automobile. Brandon had bitched the first time but now he kind of likes having a chauffeur.
“Uh, yeah. I don’t have a return flight yet.”
“I didn’t know if I’d need one.”
They’re at the car, and Shawzy’s barely tall enough to look over the roof, so Brandon’s mostly glaring at his eyebrows from the passenger side. “Did you really fly down here thinking you were going to spend the summer in my sister’s room?”
Shawzy must get up on his tiptoes, because Brandon is now fully availed of his narrowed eyes. “I flew down here willing to stay if that meant I got to be with you while you’re growing our kid inside you.”
“Just get in the car,” Brandon says, and opens his door, angling into the seat. Shawzy climbs in, jamming the key into the ignition and then turning to stare at Brandon over the console.
“Look, douchebag, you don’t get to be mad at me for wanting to be around.”
“I’m not, what the fuck, I’m not mad at you for that.”
“Then what are you mad about?”
That’s a good fucking question. If only he could say, “Because you don’t just want to be around for me.” But he can’t. Because he’s got an ace up his sleeve, or more appropriately in his stomach, and the thought of forcing Shawzy to be with him because he’s knocked up - it makes him sick.
“Mood swing,” is the lame ass excuse he offers up, and Shawzy totally doesn’t buy it, but he does stop staring and turn the car on. Small victories.
They decide to drive to Chicago the next day, then fly out from there, so Brandon can leave his car in the city. Brandon talks to his mom about his checkup, and what the doctor said, and gets her blessing for basically fucking off for the rest of his pregnancy.
“You never know,” he says, while she pretends not to be teary eyed at the kitchen table. “I may get really fucking tired of him and come back.”
She shakes her head, pressing her hand over his on the tabletop. “Somehow I doubt it,” she says, and deep down Brandon knows it’s true.
The drive is fine, Shawzy doing exactly seven miles over on the highway, checking his mirrors every few minutes in a well-practiced side-rear-side motion, like he’s taking his driving test or something.
“You’re driving like my grandmother,” Brandon says, as they’re crossing the state line, and Shawzy grits his teeth, hands at nine and three on the wheel.
“I’m driving like I have a pregnant guy in the passenger seat,” he counters, and warmth blooms in Brandon’s chest, right under the seat belt.
“Aw, honey,” Brandon drawls, making it a joke, but Shawzy doesn’t bite, and Brandon goes quiet, watching the dull, flat scenery pass him by.
He’s distinctly less nervous than the last time he’d driven into the city, even though he’s probably got more to be nervous about now. It’s probably because of Shawzy’s presence, though Brandon wouldn’t admit that under threat of death.
Shawzy switches radio stations, finds something country, and cranks it, and they ride through Illinois with guitar twanging in their ears.
Brandon gets massively sick on the first flight, white knuckling the arm rests and boring holes in the seat in front of him with his eyes. His stomach pitches and flips while the plane ascends, and Shawzy puts one warm, heavy hand between Brandon’s shoulder blades, his other holding the barf bag just in case.
“I am not going to puke in that,” Brandon says, voice low and gritty between his clenched teeth.
“Does that mean you aren’t going to puke at all?” Shawzy asks, tone of voice saying he probably already knows the answers. He keeps rubbing circles over Brandon’s spine with the heel of his hand, and somehow Brandon makes it to the next airport before dashing into the bathroom and losing his lunch.
Shawzy hands him a wet paper towel when he emerges from the stall, and then a stick of the sugarless gum that Brandon’s been chewing to help with the nausea, and waits while Brandon washes up.
“Just one more to go,” Shawzy says as they make their way towards their gate. Brandon bites down on the inside of his cheek, the muscles jumping in his jaw, and Shawzy’s hand settles on his back again, callouses catching on the fabric of Brandon’s shirt as they walk.
The second flight goes fine, for measures of fine that include Brandon not feeling like his insides are all going to come out while they take off, and he doesn’t have to make a mad dash to vomit as soon as they land. Shawzy had left his car in the parking garage, and he makes like he’s going to help Brandon into the passenger seat, after pushing a cart loaded down with their luggage because he refused to let Brandon carry his own bag.
“I will punch you,” Brandon says, and Shawzy looks like he wants it for a brief moment before he backs off, hands raised, and lets Brandon haul himself into the Jeep on his own steam.
That’s the part that’s been bothering Brandon the most. Forget the fact that Brandon’s stupid in love with Shawzy, forget the fact that they’re about to have a baby, despite the fact that neither of them should probably be put in charge of another human’s well being. It’s the way their relationship has changed, the small ways that they’re not Brandon and Shawzy anymore, that eats at Brandon the most.
And he has no idea how to fix it.
The cottage seems as good a place as any to sort things out.
It’s small, and nestled right up to the lake. It’s literally back steps, narrow strip of gritty sand, water. If you crouch down in front of the big window at the back of the cottage it looks like you’re floating on the lake. It’s pretty cool.
Shawzy is in love with his cottage. Brandon has always known that, but seeing it is something different. Shawzy relaxes in the cottage. Like, drastically. Like, boneless slumping on the couch with a water bottle threatening to fall out of his loose grasp, quiet for full minutes on end, relaxes.
Brandon has no idea what to do with cottage Shawzy.
They watch fishing shows, because of course they do, even though there’s a lake full of fish spitting distance from the back door. Shawzy seems weirded out by the idea of taking Brandon out on the boat, and Brandon doesn’t press the issue. He likes fishing well enough but he can’t eat fish right now, so it seems like a pointless endeavor.
The whole first day goes by like that, Shawzy melting into his couch cushions and Brandon in the armchair, zoning out in front of the TV. Brandon falls asleep, lulled by the ripples out in the lake and the sun slowly dipping below the horizon. He jerks awake at one point to find Shawzy hovered over him, blanket held out but not actually covering Brandon at all.
“I didn’t know if I should leave you here or not,” Shawzy says, still hunched over Brandon’s chair. His chin is near enough to bite, if that’s something Brandon wanted to do. It definitely isn’t.
“I probably shouldn’t sleep in this chair. Gotta take advantage of sleeping comfortably while I still can.” Brandon pats his stomach, the slight curve of it under his tee shirt. Shawzy’s eyes drop to it, and he lowers the blanket.
“Can I?” he asks, and Brandon lifts his eyebrows.
“It’s not much, not yet. Not like the baby’s big enough to kick or anything.”
Shawzy just keeps looking, and finally Brandon waves his hand, permission granted. Shawzy spreads his fingers, lowers his palm to Brandon’s stomach, pinky finger just grazing the top of Brandon’s shorts.
“Not used to you without a six pack,” Shawzy says, but his voice is hushed, and his face is soft. Something twists in Brandon’s chest.
“How do you think I feel?” he counters, and shifts under Shawzy’s hand.
“How do you feel?”
Shawzy looks up at him, lashes making shadows on the sharp cut of his cheekbones, and Brandon’s tempted to tell him the truth. Instead he says, “Fine. Tired.”
“Yeah.” Shawzy takes his hand back, straightens up. “You should get to bed.”
Brandon goes, and he doesn’t leave the door open. He doesn’t see any reason to.
It takes about three days for Brandon to snap.
“I hate this,” he says, standing in the doorway from the kitchen into the living room. Shawzy is in his usual spot on the couch, staring at the television. He drags his eyes away to squint at Brandon, and he frowns.
“The show? I can change it.”
“No, Shawzy, not the stupid fishing show. This.” He gestures between them, and Shawzy’s eyebrows lower.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Fuck you, yes you do. This is fucking weird, and I don’t like it. We barely talk, you haven’t drank since we got here and I know for sure this is your party cabin. You haven’t been out on the lake once, you’ve barely gotten up off the couch.”
“We’re supposed to be relaxing. Hanging out until your doctor’s appointment.”
“Well I’m not relaxed,” Brandon says, and his voice is a little louder than is strictly necessary. Shawzy gets to his feet, face set like he’s gearing up for the fight.
“I don’t know what else to do, Brandon. I’m not drinking because it would be shitty of me to get wasted when you can’t drink. I haven’t been out on the lake because thinking about taking you out on the boat freaks me out, and I can’t just leave you behind.”
“So sorry I’m cramping your style,” Brandon says, and he can hear how bitchy it is, but he can’t stop himself. He feels like he is on the speedboat, throttle opened up and stuck that way, heading for a crash landing with the shoreline.
“That’s not what I’m saying. Why would I have asked you here if I wanted to just party all the time? I wanted you here - “
“Why did you want me here?” Brandon asks, cutting him off. Shawzy shoves a handful of fingers into his hair and curls them, clumping the strands in his fist.
“I’m wondering the same thing, myself, right now.”
It’s meant to hurt, because that’s what Shawzy does. He finds all of your buttons and then he mashes them. Brandon is in exactly the kind of fucked up mood that makes him want to rise to the bait.
“Fine,” he says, and it’s straight out of every daytime soap opera his mom used to watch, he stomps off to his room and starts throwing shit in his duffel bag. He knows it’s stupid while he’s doing it but he can’t stop. He casts around wildly for his shaving kit, and is grabbing it off the dresser when Shawzy comes into the room.
“Is this a mood swing?” he asks, and Brandon basically growls at him, hurling his toiletries into his bag. Shawzy comes forward, and Brandon sees him roll his eyes, reaching out to grab Brandon’s wrist. “Will you just,” he says, and pulls. Brandon is off balance enough from his frantic packing that it works, and he swings around until he’s facing Shawzy.
“Just come here,” Shawzy says, and drags Brandon forward, until they’re chest to chest, and Shawzy lets go of his wrist in favor of wrapping his arms around Brandon’s waist. “Hug me, asshole,” he mutters against Brandon’s chest, and Brandon’s startled enough by the contact and the fondness in Shawzy’s voice to lift his arms up around Shawzy’s shoulders.
“I want you here because I want you here,” Shawzy says, voice still muffled where his mouth is pressed to Brandon’s shirt. “I want to see how big you’re getting every day, because that’s my baby in there too, you know. And you’re - you’re my friend, dickbag. One of my best friends, and I just want to hang, is that so awful?”
“No, it’s not,” Brandon says. It’s not. It’s good to hear, even if it isn’t everything he wants. “I want to hang, too. I just hate that things aren’t normal anymore.”
“Well what the fuck did you expect was going to happen when we decided to have a fucking baby?” Shawzy laughs, and his breath is warm through Brandon’s tee shirt, and he hugs him a little tighter before shoving him away.
“Wasn’t exactly a decision.”
“Maybe not at first,” Shawzy says, and starts dragging stuff out of Brandon’s bag.
Things are better after that. Brandon talks Shawzy into going out on the lake, but Shawzy refuses to do much more than float, and he makes Brandon wear a life jacket. He laughs when Brandon has to loosen the buckle slightly, just like he’d laughed when Brandon had first emerged from his room shirtless.
“You are gonna get so fat,” he crows, and Brandon punches him in the arm.
They do a few slow laps of the lake, Shawzy pointing out the other cottages and talking about the people that live there, and Brandon drinks water and lounges, enjoying the sunlight warming his skin and the fresh, clean breeze. He doesn’t get sick, which is awesome, and he hopes that means the worst of the morning sickness has passed.
He starts to doze after a while, the heat and the hum of the boat underneath him lulling him. Shawzy shakes him awake, gently, hand curved over his shoulder.
“You could’ve let me sleep,” Brandon says, but he notices the sun is a little lower in the sky, so Shawzy must’ve stayed out on the lake for another hour or so while Brandon was out.
“I will. In your bed. Up,” Shawzy says, and Brandon gets to his feet, still out of it from the nap. He leans on Shawzy as they climb out onto the dock, and Shawzy’s arm is at an odd angle, still wrapped up behind Brandon’s back. “I gotta secure the boat, you can head in.”
Brandon doesn’t want to move, really, still sleepy and enjoying the feel of Shawzy against his side. “I’ll wait,” he says, and blinks slowly, dragging his eyelids back open over and over as he watches Shawzy tie the boat to the dock.
“You are going to fall asleep on your feet,” Shawzy says, and tucks himself up next to Brandon again, propping him up as they make their way across the narrow beach.
“Sun made me really tired,” Brandon says, and punctuates his sentence with a yawn. He wants to burrow down under the covers and never come back out. Or at least stay there until it’s time to eat again. The books really aren’t lying when they say you want to do nothing but eat and sleep.
Shawzy walks him all the way into his room and then kind of nudges him toward the bed. Brandon topples onto the mattress, letting his sandals slide off his feet, and then reaches out to snag Shawzy’s wrist.
He’s going to thank him, for a nice day, and for helping him to bed, but he’s half-unconscious already and his brain-to-mouth filter fails him. “Stay,” he says, face half-mashed into his pillow and too far gone to be mortified. He squeezes his eyes tighter, and thinks maybe he’ll be fully asleep before Shawzy even gets a chance to respond.
Shawzy ends up not saying a word, tugging his wrist out of Brandon’s grasp. Brandon thinks that’ll be it, but then Shawzy’s shuffling around to the other side of the bed and crawling in, skin radiating warmth as he scoots close to Brandon’s back.
Brandon’s already teetering on the edge, and when he feels Shawzy’s hand creep over his side, coming to a rest just above his navel, he falls asleep.
The room is pitch black when Brandon wakes up, groggy and needing a piss. Shawzy’s arm is clamped around him now, and he’s snoring in Brandon’s ear. Brandon manages to escape, lifting Shawzy’s arm and sliding out from underneath it, and doesn’t bang his shins against anything as he creeps out of the room and down the hall to the bathroom.
He stops on the way back, peeking out into the living room. The moon is bright on the lake, sending a slant of white light through the picture window. The digital clock on the cable box says 12:46 AM. They slept through dinner. Brandon’s stomach growls weakly, but his eyelids are so heavy. He eats a banana from the stand on the counter, chugs a glass of milk, and then goes back to the bedroom.
Shawzy is sprawled on his back now, one leg kicked out from under the covers, an arm flung out across the mattress. There’s maybe half a foot of space between his outstretched hand and the edge of the bed.
Brandon pokes Shawzy’s open palm, and Shawzy’s fingers curl up, hand retreating. Shawzy smacks his lips, mumbles something in his sleep, and then flops over towards Brandon as he climbs in. Brandon debates turning his back, but Shawzy’s cute when he sleeps, mouth hanging up and hands pressed up under his cheek.
He falls asleep again, watching Shawzy snore.
The sun is definitely up when Brandon wakes next. And Shawzy is awake. And staring at Brandon.
“You snore,” Brandon says, because he feels weird, and chirping Shawzy is normal, instinctive.
“Fuck you, I snore,” Shawzy says, not really a comeback. He kicks Brandon under the covers, instead, and Brandon frowns.
“Hey. Too early for violence,” he says, and Shawzy rolls his eyes.
“We just slept for like fourteen hours.”
Brandon shrugs the one shoulder not pressed to the mattress. “It’s summer. I’m pregnant.”
Shawzy’s propped on one elbow, looking down at where Brandon’s still lying, pillow shoved between his arm and his head. Brandon blinks up at him, watches as some complicated series of emotions crosses his face.
“Do you feel better?”
Brandon thinks about it, pays attention to his body, and then nods. “Definitely. I was really fucking tired yesterday.”
“You don’t say,” Shawzy drawls, and then instead of rolling over and getting up like Brandon expects him to, he drops down onto his pillow and pulls his knees up, toes brushing Brandon’s thighs. “Do I really snore?”
“Yep. Like a chainsaw.”
Shawzy grimaces. “Enough to keep you awake?”
“Naw, I sleep like a baby.”
They stare at each other for a moment, and Brandon has a brief, vivid image pop into his head, of them lying in bed like this but with a real, flesh and blood baby in between them. Their bed, their baby. Brandon’s chest aches.
“What do you think he’ll be like?” Shawzy asked, voice hushed. Brandon’s never heard him like this before, and it makes his ribs feel like they’re squeezing his insides.
“How you do you know it’s a he?”
“Just a feeling.”
“You’ve thought about it?”
Shawzy chews his lip. “Yeah. Haven’t you?”
Honestly, Brandon hasn’t, not much. Not beyond the way his body feels and what they need to do next. Beyond that is a big, grey blur of uncertainty, something Brandon hasn’t wanted to touch with a ten foot pole. “Right now it’s just a thing that’s making me fat and tired, honestly.”
“You’re not fat,” Shawzy says right away, and Brandon’s surprised. It would’ve been a prime opportunity to give him shit, not something Shawzy would usually pass up. But he’s being very un-Shawzy-like at the moment, face soft and voice soft and eyes … well, soft. Brandon wants to crush him to his chest and never let him go.
“Thanks,” he says, gruff, and Shawzy reaches out, hand slipping under the covers. Brandon tenses, heartbeat ratcheting up, and sucks in a breath when Shawzy’s fingertips brush over the skin of his abdomen.
“You’re growing a kid,” he says, and he’s even more hushed now, watching his hand move under the blanket, leaning forward slightly so he can flatten his palm against Brandon’s stomach. “Our kid.”
“It’s, uh,” Brandon says, and has to swallow. “It’s still pretty crazy to think about.”
“Yeah,” Shawzy says, and then tips his head back. He’s shifted close enough to Brandon that Brandon can see the stubble shadowing his chin. He wants to touch it, feel it scrape against his skin. He lifts his hand before he can think better of it, fits his palm to the curve of Shawzy’s jaw as Shawzy slides his hand over Brandon’s belly.
Shawzy’s leaning up as Brandon leans down, brain gone completely blank, and their mouths bump a little before they angle their heads, getting lined up in a proper kiss.
It’s good, even though both of them have pretty terrible morning breath, and Brandon’s lips are probably chapped from the sun and the wind on the lake. But Shawzy’s mouth is warm, and his fingers are rough as they brush over the trail of hair low on Brandon’s stomach, and his blood is already rushing through his veins just from the press of their lips. Usually it takes at least a little tongue before Brandon’s this into it, but pregnancy hormones are no joke.
He’s hard as a rock before the first kiss is even over, and his breath is ragged when Shawzy pulls back, blinking heavy lids.
Brandon should say something, because kissing is not something they do, and maybe it was the moment, the weird bubble stretching over this time and space, like the bed exists in an alternate dimension where the two of them kiss all the time, but in the real world they should probably talk about it.
Shawzy doesn’t seem to think so, leaning up to kiss Brandon again, hand following the curve and dip of Brandon’s stomach to the top of his shorts, and then dipping under.
A hot jolt goes through Brandon at the first touch of Shawzy’s fingers to his dick. He gasps against Shawzy’s mouth, and Shawzy shifts closer, kisses him harder, opening up for Brandon’s tongue.
The angle must be weird for Shawzy’s wrist, his forearm trapped between their stomachs, but he’s making it work, circling his fingers around Brandon’s dick and giving a long, slow pull. Brandon presses forward, jerking into Shawzy’s grasp, and Shawzy bites at his mouth, rough in a way that Brandon is really enjoying, but still soft somehow. Intimate, Brandon thinks, sharing breath with Shawzy while Shawzy strokes him, and then panting into the space over Shawzy’s head when he moves on to sucking along Brandon’s jaw line, down under it to where his beard ends and sensitive skin begins.
“Fuck,” Brandon says, unable to keep quiet anymore. His voice is almost too loud for the bubble, and he’s worried it’s going to burst, but Shawzy groans against his throat and strokes harder, curling his fingers tighter. “Fuck, Shawzy, just like that.”
“Jesus,” Shawzy says, huffing against Brandon’s throat. He doesn’t stop though, and Brandon can feel Shawzy’s hard on against his thigh, the little hitching movements of his hips as he tries to get some friction through layers of clothing.
“Hang on, here.” Brandon pushes at Shawzy’s hips, gets him to angle away a little, giving Brandon enough room to maneuver his hand between them and into Shawzy’s shorts. His dick is blood-hot and a little slick at the tip, but it’s still a little rough and dry and Shawzy arches into it, eyes screwed closed and mouth open. “Is that good?” Brandon asks, and gets a raspy groan in return, which he assumes means yes.
The feeling of Shawzy in his hand, heavy and thick, makes his belly tight, heat coiling up at the base of his spine. He mouths over Shawzy’s rough chin until they’re mouths are more or less pressed together, and comes, soaking the inside of his shorts.
Shawzy doesn’t remove his hand, even though it must feel pretty gross to have a handful of come and softening dick, trapped inside damp shorts. He comes pretty soon after Brandon, thumb rubbing up under the over-sensitive head of Brandon’s dick, and Brandon hisses, pulling back as he gets his own handful of come.
They extract their hands, panting against each other’s faces, and Brandon feels like keeling over and going right back to sleep. Shawzy’s pretty alert; his eyes are bright behind heavy eyelids, and he’s studying Brandon’s face like he expects Brandon to be the one to freak out.
He maybe should - nothing is solved, sex isn’t the answer, et cetera. Brandon knows all that. Being the father of Brandon’s child and also sexually attracted to Brandon is only like two thirds of what Brandon wants (and one of those thirds was something he didn’t even know he wanted until recently) but at this point Brandon’s pretty happy with those two thirds.
Especially if it means he gets to have orgasms like that on the regular.
So Brandon eases Shawzy’s mind by leaning forward and kissing him again, nipping a little at his lower lip before he pulls away.
“You can shower first,” he says, inching back across the mattress and then flopping down. “I’ll just rest my eyes here.”
Shawzy snorts, wipes his hand on Brandon’s shorts like an asshole, and gets out of bed.
Things seem to go back to normal after they jerk each other off, which makes no sense to Brandon whatsoever. Shawzy has a beer with dinner now and then, and takes Brandon out on the boat more often. They play some video games during the day, a much needed break from the never ending stream of fishing shows they’d been watching, and Shawzy chirps Brandon ruthlessly. He even grins when Brandon punches him in the arm, but he doesn’t punch back like he would’ve before. Instead he lets his grin go sharp, leans across the cushion’s worth of space between them, and bites Brandon on the shoulder, hard.
“Don’t want to punch a pregnant dude,” is his explanation, when Brandon’s rubbing over the sting, feeling for indentations in his skin.
“Oh, but biting is totally cool.”
Shawzy’s response is a filthier grin than the one before, and a pointed glance down at Brandon’s crotch, half-hard dick tenting his shorts.
“Fuck off,” Brandon mutters, and unpauses the game.
Brandon’s trying not to think of why it feels so totally normal, right even, that the tension that had been between them seems to have dissipated now that they’re sleeping together regularly. Because he knows full well that Shawzy’s intentions have everything to do with the baby, and the sex is just a side effect of being forced together and having good chemistry.
He’s trying to just enjoy the orgasms, the intimacy of sharing a bed and the cottage, and ignoring everything else.
They pack up the night before their flight, making sure the cottage is put back together, presentable for Shawzy’s sister and brother-in-law, who will be frequenting the place since Shawzy won’t be using it for the rest of the summer. Shawzy wanders around before coming to bed, trailing his fingers over the furniture, staring out at the lake. Brandon lets him, crawling under the covers in a loose pair of sweats, the waistband tucked under his swelling stomach.
Shawzy’s quiet when he comes into the bedroom, flicking off the light and sliding across the mattress to tuck against Brandon’s side. He puts his palm over Brandon’s navel, like he always does while they sleep, and presses an oddly gentle kiss to Brandon’s shoulder.
“Bummed about leaving?” Brandon asks, and Shawzy hums, nestles closer.
“Always am,” he says, and his eyes glint in the dark when Brandon looks over. “But I’m excited to go back to Chicago, too.”
“Yeah.” They’ve got a meeting scheduled with the team management, and they’ll see the doctors after that. Brandon’s nearly due for his next checkup, and he’s anxious for an update. He knows he won’t be able to see the baby yet, and may not even be able to hear it, but still.
The flight back to Chicago is nonstop this time, and Brandon’s stomach stays settled from takeoff to touchdown.
Shawzy’s been living in a hotel for the last few seasons, because he’d gotten used to the maid service, but Brandon has a modest apartment in a building near the UC that a lot of the lesser ‘Hawks - the fifth line, the healthy scratches - live in. Some of the guys sublet during the summer, but Brandon likes his space to be his own, and leaves the place empty during the couple of months he’s back home in St. Charles.
Someone comes through and dusts, opens the windows for a few hours, sweeps the wood floor, every week or so. The team set it up for him, and it’s nice to come back to a space that doesn’t feel abandoned. It’s empty, and dark, and warm from the sun and the lack of air conditioning, but still a little bit like home.
There are two bedrooms, but the second one is mostly empty. There’s a desk he never uses, and a stationary bike that he does, and a couple of Rubbermaid totes that he hasn’t opened since he moved in. He can’t actually remember what’s in them.
Either way, there’s no bed, and Shawzy only takes a perfunctory glance into the room before he crosses the hall to Brandon’s, lugging his stuff in and dropping it on the floor.
Shawzy’s seen his room before, but Brandon doesn’t think he’s ever been inside. He’s definitely never been on the bed, but he flops down onto it like it belongs to him anyway, shoes still on and shirt hitched up.
“I feel like a nap,” he says, and yawns like he’s proving a point.
“Funny, you don’t look like one,” Brandon says, something his sister used to say to him when they were younger. It’s a lame joke, not funny at all, but Shawzy grins anyway, and rolls his eyes.
Brandon bites back the next lame joke about to trip off his tongue, and looks down at Shawzy’s feet. “Gonna take your shoes off before you mess up my nice, clean sheets?”
“Nah,” he says, but he toes them off, letting them thunk onto the floor and then shoving himself up the mattress. He pats the comforter near his hip, and Brandon shakes his head but climbs in, knee walks up the bed to spread out at Shawzy’s side.
“You wanna sleep in your clothes on top of the covers?”
Shawzy grins, mouth sliding into a leer, and drags his shirt off over his head. “Trying to get me naked, Bollig?”
Brandon groans, but he leans forward to flick the tip of his tongue over Shawzy’s nipple, because yeah. Lately he’s pretty much always trying to get Shawzy naked. The nap can wait.
The meeting with the team management is tense, but goes well. They’re nice guys, and have handled far worse, so Brandon’s not surprised. Shawzy’s jumping going in, a by-product of the days he was bounced back and forth from Rockford, but Brandon’s surprisingly calm.
There’s not much to say, really. Brandon’s pregnant, it’s Shawzy’s, they’re together. They would love to keep it quiet but understand the near impossibility of that, so they agree to meet with PR closer to training camp to figure out a plan of action. Brandon isn’t thrilled at the concept of press and media attention, especially when he’s the one who’s going to be round and swollen, but it’s a necessary evil, he understands.
He just hopes he knows what to say about him and Shawzy by then.
The team medical staff isn’t set up with the necessary machines for baby checkups, but they have a referral at Northwestern, and they set up the appointment for the next day.
The prenatal care doctor’s office is in a building on the edge of campus, down a long, winding drive, tucked away in a copse of trees at one end of a narrow parking lot. It’s a pretty building, ivy-dotted brick and glinting windows, with a bright blue awning in the front. There aren’t many cars in the lot, as compared to the much larger OB/GYN clinic closer to the main road, and Brandon’s glad.
They’re greeted as soon as the doors swish open, the pretty redhead at the front desk smiling up at them. “How can I help you?”
“We have an appointment with Dr. Watts,” Brandon says, and Shawzy shifts restlessly next to him. The receptionist checks her computer, clicks a few times with the mouse, and then smiles again.
“I’ve let him know you’re here, you can have a seat.”
The waiting room is plain, but more comfortable than Brandon’s seen in other areas of other hospitals. He supposes making expectant men sit in the standard issue plastic chairs would be against some sort of health code. The chair he sinks into is actually pretty comfortable; squishy but firm enough that it wouldn’t be hard to get out of it when he’s rounder through the middle.
They don’t wait long, a nurse poking his head out of the door almost immediately, glancing down at a clipboard and saying, “Mr. Bollig?”
He ushers them through the preliminaries, checking Brandon’s height and weight on the old-fashioned scale at the end of the hall. He slides the weight back and forth a few times, several notches higher than Brandon’s used to, and makes a mark on his chart. Shawzy’s smirking, and Brandon wants to tell him to shut up, but thinks that might be inappropriate in this setting. He glares instead, but Shawzy just smirks harder, the asshole.
Brandon has to wear another scratchy paper gown, and this time Shawzy doesn’t give him any privacy. Instead he leers while Brandon undresses, but then he ties the strings for him, hands gentle on Brandon’s side when he turns him back around.
The paper crinkles under his butt as he sits on the exam table, and Shawzy’s face is oddly soft when he scoots his chair closer, and lifts his hand to rest it on Brandon’s thigh.
Dr. Watts is older, hair greying at the temples, and tall. He’s reading Brandon’s chart when he comes in, peering over a pair of glasses, which he slips off his nose and folds up to put in the pocket of his lab coat as he closes the door behind him.
“Mr. Bollig,” he says, holding out his hand. Brandon shakes it, charmed, and the doctor turns to Shawzy. “Mr. Shaw. I’m Dr. Watts.”
The team docs had said he was the go-to guy for this situation, and Brandon wonders suddenly if he’s the same guy that delivered Kaner and Tazer’s kids. It’s a weird thought, but slightly comforting, too. Kaner’d come out of that just fine.
“Nice to meet you,” Shawzy says while Brandon’s caught up in his own thoughts, and makes a face at Brandon.
“Yeah, nice to meet you,” Brandon parrots, and focuses his attention.
The doctor asks some questions, and Brandon thinks he must be having a fairly easy pregnancy when he can say no to things like, “any headaches” or “any dizziness” or “any abnormal discharge.”
He’s read about abnormal discharge, and he thanks whatever higher power there may be that he hasn’t had to experience that at all.
“You’ve had blood drawn, I see, so that’s good. We’ll run all the standard tests, make sure everything checks out there. Higher risk for gestational diabetes in men, I’m sure you’ve been told, so we just want to make sure that’s not an issue.”
Brandon nods, and is glad he and Shawzy have been doing so much reading. Enough late night Google searching and he’s sure he can’t be shocked by anything anymore.
“All that’s left then is the Doppler.”
Brandon’s heart starts to pound. Shawzy’s face is a little pale, and he scoots even closer to the table. Dr. Watts is busy uncoiling the cord of the machine, snapping on gloves, grabbing a tube of gel. Shawzy’s hand creeps up over the edge of the table and then closes around Brandon’s, gripping so hard his knuckles creak.
It’s exactly what Brandon needs.
The gel is fucking cold, even with the warning of numerous parenting blogs preparing him, and he jumps when it hits his stomach.
“Everyone does that,” Dr. Watts says, smiling, and then he turns the machine on.
It sounds a little like putting a seashell up to your ear, a weird hollow rushing noise. Brandon braces himself for not being able to hear anything through it, because he’s read that you can’t always, not this early. Shawzy’s grip gets tighter as the wand lowers toward Brandon’s stomach.
Dr. Watts smears the gel around with the wand, and then starts pressing gently in random spots. The sound on the monitor doesn’t change much, other than getting louder and fainter as the wand moves. Shawzy is staring at Brandon, and Brandon is staring at the doctor, and Brandon can feel the tension in Shawzy’s hand, the way his entire arm, his entire body, is locked up next to the table. Brandon’s trying not to freak out himself, because it doesn’t mean anything if they can’t hear a heartbeat, and the expression on the doctor’s face doesn’t change at all as he slides the wand around.
“It’s there,” he says after what seems like forever, and Brandon lets out a breath. “I’m trying to find a good spot so you can hear it, but it’s definitely showing up on the monitor.”
“That’s fine. As long as it’s there, we don’t - “ Brandon is cut off by the doctor raising a finger, pressing a little harder in one spot, and weird extra noise cuts through the static of the machine.
It’s fast, and echoing, a dull thump-thump-thump that makes Brandon think of bass filtering through the walls of a club. The image of his stomach being like a dance club for a tiny fetus makes him choke on a surprised laugh, and he might be getting a bit hysterical, because that is his baby’s heartbeat.
And then Shawzy leans forward, grip on Brandon’s hand going painfully tight, and Brandon thinks, no. Not his baby. Their baby.
“Holy shit, is that it?” Shawzy asks, and his voice sounds like Brandon’s never heard it, awed and almost reverent, and it makes Brandon’s eyes prickle.
Fuck, he’s totally going to cry. He’s not sure why he’s surprised.
“It sure is,” Dr. Watts says, and lets them listen a little longer.
It’s the best thing Brandon’s ever heard. And from the way Shawzy is looking up at him, eyes suspiciously shiny and mouth hanging open, he’d be willing to bet Shawzy would agree.
Dr. Watts leaves them alone in the room when the tests are all completed, presumably so Brandon can get dressed and they can vacate before the next person has to come in. But Brandon just sits there, because he’s still pretty much floored, the echo of Doppler still in his ears.
“Holy shit,” Shawzy says, breaking the silence in the room, and it’s something he’s said a few times already, but Brandon is still totally in agreement. “I cried, dude. I haven’t done that since we won the Cup.”
Brandon laughs, but it’s a watery kind of laugh, because he’s still tearing up. He knows he’s more prone to crying because of the hormones, but he has a feeling he’d be pretty worked up no matter what. “That was intense.”
“Yeah it was.” Shawzy had let go of Brandon’s hand while the doctor was finishing up, but he reaches up now to slap Brandon’s thigh. “You did good.”
“Are you giving me the ‘good game’ speech right now? I didn’t do anything.”
“You’re obviously being an excellent host to our baby, dude. That’s a pretty big thing.”
Brandon rolls his eyes, but the mood of the room has shifted enough now that he feels like he can climb off the exam table and pull his clothes on, ditching the scratchy paper gown. “Obviously I was going to be awesome at that,” he says, head emerging from his shirt in time to catch Shawzy staring at his stomach. “My body is good for a lot of things.”
“Seriously, do not try to hit on me in our baby doctor’s office. Not cool.”
“Shut up, you love it,” Brandon says, and hooks an elbow around Shawzy’s neck to drag him out to the car.
Everything Brandon reads about pregnancy freaks him out, but in reality being pregnant is not really that big of a deal. He knows he has it easy on many counts - he doesn’t have to work, he’s got a high pain threshold, and he’s used to being really tuned in to his body. The way it’s changing, a layer of flesh over his muscle that he hasn’t had since childhood, doesn’t even bother him that much. Maybe it’s hormones, or maybe it’s the regular orgasms, but he feels awesome.
He keeps working out, though he sticks to the weight set in his spare room and the bike instead of the heavier equipment at the gym, and he tones it way down. He takes frequent naps, and he eats about the same amount as he does during the season. He calls his mom with updates, and lets Shawzy take pictures of his baby bump every week for their sisters, and falls asleep on the couch watching Netflix.
It’s a pretty awesome summer.
They celebrate the end of Brandon’s first trimester with Shawzy’s first ever blowjob. Not receiving, since he’s clearly gotten them before, including the only one Brandon’s ever given. It’s his first time giving one, and Brandon is really looking forward to putting that big mouth to good use.
Shawzy gives Brandon’s dick a calculated look, fingers wrapped around the base, and Brandon huffs out a laugh. “Shawzy, it’s just a dick. You think it’s going to come to life or something?”
“Just sizing it up,” Shawzy says, and stretches his mouth open wide.
“It’s not that big,” Brandon says, because it’s not. It’s the longer side of average, sure, and thicker than Shawzy’s, but it’s not monstrous by any means. Shawzy can handle it easy, Brandon’s sure.
“Trust me, I know,” Shawzy says, all cocky eyebrows and sass, and Brandon is going to choke him with his fucking dick as soon as he gets it in his mouth. And he’s going to love it.
He doesn’t, of course, because the moment Shawzy gets his mouth on him he loses every thought in his head other than fuck and yes and his eyes roll back in his head.
Shawzy is sloppy, but it’s working for Brandon in a big way.
“You are really into this,” Shawzy says, slurping off the end of Brandon’s dick with a noise that should be gross but really, really isn’t.
“Duh,” Brandon says, panting, and reaches down to touch Shawzy’s spit-slick lips. Shawzy grins, nips at Brandon’s fingertips, and then nudges his hand away to get back to work. Brandon settles his hand in Shawzy’s hair instead, pulling a little.
Shawzy doesn’t seem to mind.
It’s over embarrassingly quick, because Brandon really is into it, and Shawzy uses one hand to play with his balls, knuckles brushing just behind them, where Brandon is ridiculously sensitive. Brandon taps at Shawzy’s head, tugs at his hair, and then gives up, shooting right into Shawzy’s mouth.
Shawzy swallows, probably because he’s too shocked to do anything else, but a little dribbles out of his mouth anyway, and he leaps to his feet, wiping at his chin. “What the fuck?”
Brandon’s hazy from the orgasm, and he just grins up at Shawzy. “Universal code for ‘I’m going to come’,” he says, patting at the air like he’d done to Shawzy’s head.
“Well excuse me if I’m not an expert at sucking dick, okay, I didn’t realize.”
“Come here,” Brandon says, reaching out and snagging Shawzy’s wrist when he steps closer, pulling him back down and kissing him, getting his tongue in Shawzy’s mouth so he can taste himself there. “I like that you swallowed,” he says when he pulls away, and rubs his thumb under Shawzy’s lower lip to clean up anything left behind.
“Yeah, well,” Shawzy grumbles, and noses at Brandon cheeks. “It wasn’t awful, I guess. Just a shock.”
“Sorry. I would’ve told you but I couldn’t quite get my voice to work.”
The compliment hits its target, and Shawzy beams, proud. “My turn,” he says, and Brandon flips them over, shimmies down the bed on his knees, and gets to work.
They don’t act couple-y during the day, while they’re puttering around the house, or while they’re out on the dwindling number of excursions that Brandon is comfortable with while his belly gets bigger and his clothing options narrow down to nearly nothing. They bicker like always, and shove each other around - though Shawzy seems less willing to engage in play fighting now, and his shoves are a lot weaker - and generally act like children. But at night they curl up together in bed and Shawzy splays his hand out over Brandon’s swelling bump of a stomach, and they sleep with Shawzy’s toes tucked between Brandon’s calves.
Also they have a lot of sex.
It’s a weird dichotomy, and if Brandon dwells on it for too long it really bums him out. But he gets to kiss Shawzy and Shawzy kisses him back, and so what if he can’t like hold his hand or whatever when they’re at Target buying toilet paper and boxer briefs.
He puts it out of his mind.
Shawzy starts gearing up for training camp, and Brandon starts gearing up for facing the media.
They schedule the press conference for the day before camp starts, to explain Brandon’s absence before the rumors can start flying. They’re far from being the first two guys in the NHL to have kids together, not even the first on the Blackhawks. And if Pat and Jonny can get through it relatively unscathed then Brandon’s sure he and Shawzy will be fine.
It’s still nerve wracking. Brandon’s used to the background, skating his minimal shifts and escaping most of the media attention. When he does get cornered for an interview it’s a few people with iPhones, not a room full of reporters with cameras and recorders. And he doesn’t have to answer questions about his personal life.
He especially never has to sit through his interviews with an eighteen week baby bump sticking out in front of him.
They ask him to wear a Blackhawks hoodie, the same Reebok branded one that all the guys are wearing for their media availability, and it’s snug across his middle. It definitely doesn’t hide anything the way his summer wardrobe was. He supposes that’s the point, standing sideways in front of the full-length mirror stuck to his closet door, smoothing the grey fabric over his stomach.
“They’re comfortable,” Shawzy says, coming up behind him. He’s got his own hoodie on, 65 ironed on over his heart. Brandon grunts, pulls the kangaroo pocket taut by spreading his hands.
“If you don’t have a giant stomach, maybe.”
“It’s not giant,” Shawzy says, reaching out to touch. He’s been chirping Brandon less about his growing belly, and touching it more. Brandon knows it’s going to start kicking soon, and assumes that’s why Shawzy’s feeling him up, waiting for the baby to start moving. Then Shawzy says, voice low, “It’s kind of sexy, actually.”
Brandon has no idea what to do with that. Well, he has an idea, but they don’t have time for it. He just stands there while Shawzy gropes his stomach, and tries not to flush too red.
Shawzy drives them to the UC, and they duck into the players’ entrance before any of the people milling around can see them. They see the podium as they make their way to the dressing room, and Brandon feels a wave of anxiety, his fingers twitching at his sides. Shawzy slants a grim smile at him, then drags open the doors to the room.
There are a few guys already there, and they hoot and holler as soon as Brandon comes through the door. Kaner’s on him right away, asking him how he feels, if the baby’s moving, going on and on about his first pregnancy while other guys come up and slap Brandon gently on the shoulders.
Jonny’s giving Shawzy a noogie, because he’s a giant lamer, but Shawzy’s laughing about it, slapping at Jonny’s chest and wiggling free. It’s overwhelming, but nice, to have everyone congratulating them and asking if they can touch Brandon’s stomach.
“You know what you’re going to say?” Kaner asks, and Brandon lifts a shoulder.
“Just going to answer questions, I guess,” he says, because the team is making the actual statement. Brandon’s watched Kaner’s press conferences, and a couple of other guys from other teams, he thinks he knows the drill. Kaner nods.
“They’ll be nice to you, I’m sure. Should be over quick.”
They are, and it is. Stan talks a little, and then Q, about how they’ll miss Brandon during the season but they’re happy for him, and outlining the normal paternity leave procedure. Brandon gets up there after they’re through, and there are flashes all around. He stands next to the podium and lets them photograph him full body, making sure the turn side to side so they can get the full view of his stomach. Then he steps up to the mic and the questions start.
They’re simple, for the most part. How’s he feeling, when’s the baby due, things like that. He fields them easily, trying to sound comfortable even while he’s fidgeting like crazy, and he knows someone’s going to scold him for fussing with the mic so much.
Near the end someone starts asking increasingly leading questions about him and Shawzy, and Brandon doesn’t know what to say. They’re together, but not really. Not in the way Brandon wants. Not that that’s any of these peoples’ business, but that’s clearly what they’re trying to find out. Are they Pat-and-Jonny together, or something kind of different. Brandon deflects best he can, and then Stan comes out, calls an end to the questions, and thanks everyone for coming.
The other guys have to hang around and answer questions about the upcoming season, so the media stays put, and Brandon steps down off the stage while Stan is reading out the schedule for the day. Shawzy’s waiting for him, tucked back in a hallway where the journos can’t see him.
“You did good,” he says, but he looks a little murderous, tight around the eyes with his jaw tilted up.
“What’s that all about?” Brandon asks, and waves at Shawzy’s face.
“Just didn’t like some of those questions,” he says, and Brandon tenses up. He’s been avoiding talk of their relationship as best as possible, because he doesn’t want to hear Shawzy say anything about sticking together for the baby. He waves a hand, trying to dismiss it.
“Are they making you talk to them?”
Shawzy grits his teeth. “Yeah. But hopefully just about hockey.”
He gets a couple of questions about missing games when the baby’s born, but he keeps them on track other than that, and when he comes off stage he’s more relaxed, even grins as Kaner hooks an arm around his neck.
“You are probably going to be a terrible parent,” Kaner says, and Shawzy pinches Kaner’s side.
“Fuck you, I’ll be better than you.”
Kaner scoffs. “No one is better than me. Not even Jonny.”
Jonny rolls his eyes and drags Kaner away, and Shawzy claps his hands together. “Fuck those assholes, let’s go get lunch.”
It’s surprising how little Brandon minds not being able to join in at training camp. He’d thought he’d be bored out of his minds sitting in the stands while everyone else geared up and skated, but he’s perfectly content to sprawl in a seat, jersey loose over his stomach, and watch.
He wants to be on the ice, of course, but it’s easier sitting out when he thinks of the reason - not because he’s injured or they don’t want him there, but because of the baby.
They have an ultrasound scheduled for the third day of camp, and Shawzy’s released early so he can drive Brandon over.
“You don’t have to do this,” Brandon says again, sitting in his empty stall in the dressing room while Shawzy gets dressed, and Shawzy cranes his neck to glare over his shoulder.
“Fucking stop saying that,” Shawzy says, yanking a shirt over his head and jamming a cap over his shower-damp hair. “I’m not coming because I think I have to, dickhead. I’m coming because I want to see our baby.”
The team’s been placing bets on what they’re having, and it seems like the majority are guessing boy. Kaner and Jonny have one of each, and they both swear their son has been more difficult than their daughter.
“And our kids aren’t half-Shawzy,” Kaner had joked, ducking away from Shawzy’s swinging fist. “So yours will be way worse.”
Shawzy wants a girl. Brandon doesn’t care, honestly, because he’s pretty sure any kid of his and Shawzy’s is going to be a holy terror, and as cliche as it sounds, he just wants it to be healthy.
Brandon is nervous as hell when he lays back on the exam table and the doctor starts squirting the gel onto his stomach. He twitches, and fidgets, and Shawzy grabs his hand, squeezing. It hurts, and it probably hurts Shawzy too, but it’s grounding. He takes a deep breath, hears Shawzy do the same, and then focuses on the ultrasound screen.
Dr. Watts holds the wand over Brandon’s stomach and raises his eyebrows. “Ready?” he asks, and Brandon nods.
They hear the heartbeat first, that same echo-y whooshing as the first time, and then the picture comes up. There’s a weird triangle type shape, fuzzy with static and what Brandon assumes is movement. Shawzy squeezes Brandon’s hand even tighter, leaning forward until he’s almost poking Brandon’s stomach with his pointy ass chin.
“Whoa,” he says, and Brandon can’t think of anything else to say. Right in the middle of the weird fuzzy triangle is a curled up form that is their baby.
“There he is,” Dr. Watts says, and Brandon blinks.
“It’s a boy. See here?” Dr. Watts points to something on the screen, presumably at the baby’s genitals, but all Brandon can see are tiny little blobs that he figures are hands and feet.
“I’ll take your word for it,” he says, and looks down at Shawzy. He’s grinning in that dopey way of his where it looks like he can’t control it, and his eyes are wet. Brandon wants to kiss him, right there in the doctor’s office. But he doesn’t lean forward, or pull Shawzy up. Instead he smirks and says, “Kaner’s gonna win a lot of money.”
“We could lie,” Shawzy says, looking up, still grinning crazily. “Tell him it’s a girl and then pretend it’s a surprise when he’s born.”
Brandon laughs, and pulls his hand away from Shawzy’s, shaking it out to get some feeling back in his fingers. “Nah, let him win. He can use the money to buy us awesome presents.”
They take the pictures in the next day, and even Q gets in on the cooing. Kaner gleefully collects the money slapped into his palm, giving Shawzy a noogie with a fistful of cash, but he sidles up to Brandon before he heads out onto the ice, pads pressing into Brandon’s biceps, and looks down at the picture.
“Are you happy, Boller?” he asks, fingertips brushing over the weird bump of the baby’s head in the black and white print out.
“Yeah, Kaner,” Brandon says, and Kaner nods.
“Good.” He backs away, skates clomping over the carpet. “You’re going to be miserable soon enough.” Douchey smirk back in place, he gives Brandon a jaunty salutes and then turns to head out to the rink.
Kaner turns out to be really, unfortunately, correct.
Brandon is miserable. He’s halfway through his third trimester, he’s as big as a house and tired all the time, and he misses Shawzy. The Blackhawks are away on their circus trip, and Brandon is not cleared for travel. Brandon is instead relegated to the couch, wearing a pair of sweatpants and a paternity tee shirt that emphasizes the stretched, bulging roundness of his belly, watching the game on television.
“Come on,” he shouts, and then presses a hand to his side when the baby kicks. “Sorry, pup,” he mutters, because he’s taken to calling the baby “puppy” or “pup” even though the first time
Sharpy had used the nickname he’d threatened his life. (“But it’s the Mutt’s baby, it’s perfect.” “Sharpy, I will smother you with my stomach.”)
Brandon falls asleep before the game ends, the remote hanging out of his hand. His phone buzzing against his hip wakes him up, and he fumbles groggily with it before accepting the call.
“Hello,” he says, voice croaky from sleep. He’s got a cramp in his side from laying funny, and his eyelids are so heavy it feels like there are bricks on them.
“Hey, were you sleeping?” It’s Shawzy, sounding cheerful and slightly manic, which means the Blackhawks won. He always got a little crazed after a good win.
“I’m always sleeping,” Brandon answers, and it comes out a little pissier than he meant it to. He’s trying to stay upbeat as much as possible, but falling asleep on the couch in his sweats while the team is out playing awesome hockey sucks, baby or no.
“Sorry to wake you up, I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
Brandon wants to snap back, something about feeling like shit because that’s the norm now, but Shawzy doesn’t have to call him after a game. They’re living together, and sleeping together, and having a baby together, but they’re not together together. So he says, “I’m alright. Just tired.”
“Did you watch the game?”
“I started to. Fell asleep in the third period.”
“Aw, then you missed my sweet goal.”
Brandon rolls his eyes, affection and irritation washing over him. It’s a familiar combination, and he misses Shawzy so much it almost hurts. The baby kicks right then, and Brandon makes a little “oomph” noise, because he always manages to catch Brandon right in the ribs.
“Baby kicking?” Shawzy asks, and his voice takes on the hushed quality it gets every time he talks about the baby. It makes Brandon feel warm all over.
“Lemme talk to him.”
“Are you serious?”
“Come on, Brandon, I don’t want him to forget me.”
Brandon heaves a giant sigh, even though his eyes feel hot and a little prickly, and his breath is coming shorter. He lowers his phone to his stomach, and it feels stupid but also really nice, feeling the vibrations of Shawzy’s gritty voice and the way the baby moves around a little more while Shawzy talks. It’s totally Lifetime movie worthy, the whole scene, but it makes Brandon feel better about being stuck on the couch, taking care of their baby while Shawzy’s kicking ass all over six different rinks across North America.
He gives Shawzy one full minute and then brings the phone back up to his ear. Shawzy’s still cooing away, and Brandon lets him go for a little, letting the laughter build up behind his teeth before he unleashes it, and he can practically hear Shawzy scowl down the line.
“I was going to suggest phone sex,” Shawzy says, disgruntled but smug at the same time, “but now I don’t think so.”
“Gosh, I’m really missing out. I can jerk off without your voice in my ear, Mutt.”
“Yeah, but it won’t be as good.”
“Won’t be as good without you here, anyway,” Brandon says, and then clenches his teeth. Pregnancy brain equals no filter, and he’s become terribly prone to saying embarrassing things. He’s waiting for the day he blurts out the three words he’s been biting down on hardest. This admission isn’t nearly as bad as that one will be.
“Aw,” Shawzy says, dragging the word out because he’s a douche.
“I’m going to go now,” Brandon says, so he doesn’t have to deal with Shawzy anymore. “I’m fucking tired, and you’re irritating.”
“You love - “ Shawzy starts, and Brandon cuts him off.
“Good night,” he says, words clipped, and ends the call. The baby elbows him in his kidney just then, almost like he’s mad at Brandon for hanging up on Shawzy, and Brandon grumbles down at his stomach, then drags himself to bed.
Two weeks before Brandon’s due date the Blackhawks have a Friday home game followed by an entire weekend off. Brandon doesn’t go to the game, because it’s mid-February in Chicago and it’s freaking freezing, and he’s too big to fit comfortably even in the wide seats in the owner’s suite.
He watches the Blackhawks hand the Predators their asses, and then goes to bed, fully expecting Shawzy to go out for a beer or two with the guys afterwards. Instead Shawzy comes home, climbing into bed before Brandon’s able to drift off, and sticking his cold feet between Brandon’s calves.
“Jesus,” Brandon hisses, and jerks his legs away. Shawzy laughs, and it’s different from his normal laugh. This is one of his mean laughs, which means he’s in the mood to be an even bigger prick than usual. He shoves his feet at Brandon again, who doesn’t have much room to maneuver farther away. “Fucking cut it out, Mutt.”
“Oh, sorry, am I bugging you?” Shawzy asks, his eyes glinting in the moonlight coming through the blinds. Brandon will never understand why Shawzy gets like this after a win. He gets where it’s coming from after a loss, but Shawzy had played well that night.
“Yeah, you are,” Brandon says. “If you’re in a bad mood why didn’t you go out with the guys?”
“I can’t go out, dipshit. You’re about to pop.”
“Don’t do me any favors. It’s not like I can’t call if I go into labor.”
“I don’t want to drunk when you give birth to our kid, Brandon,” Shawzy says, snotty and frustrated. Brandon heaves a sigh. “Sorry I’m irritating you.”
“Not like I’m not used to it.”
“Wow,” Shawzy says, and the mattress shifts as Shawzy rolls away and gets to his feet. Brandon sighs again, squeezing his eyes closed. He doesn’t want to fight.
“Come on, Shawzy, I’m sorry,” he says. Shawzy doesn’t respond, but he does get back into bed. Brandon opens his mouth, unable to stop himself, knowing his filter is about to fail spectacularly and totally unable to stop it. “We fight like a married couple and we’re not even together.”
Everything is still and quiet and Brandon’s heart thumps extra hard, panic fizzling under skin and making his breath come short and fast.
Shawzy’s voice is weird and brittle when he speaks, and Brandon is not prepared for how hurt he sounds. “What do you mean?”
“I just,” Brandon starts, with no idea how to finish.
“We’re living together and sleeping together and we’re having a fucking baby, Brandon, why would you say we aren’t together?”
“But it’s only because of the baby,” he says, and he feels sick. This conversation is exactly what he’s been avoiding.
“Because of the - wow. You are an idiot.”
“You said at the convention - “
Shawzy cuts him off, and now he sounds even more pissed than he was before. He contradicts the anger in his tone by shifting closer, sliding a hand over Brandon’s hip under the covers. “Brandon. The convention was nine months ago, and I’d just found out I was going to be a father. I’d just found out,” he slides closer, until his breath is puffing against Brandon’s face when he talks, “that the guy I’d been fucking stupid over for years was going to have my baby. I wasn’t talking sense. I wanted - I want - to be with you because I love you, you dumb fuck. Not just because of the baby.”
There is no possible way that he can process all of that. Forget pregnancy hormones making him stupid, forget how he’s reeling because he’d expected disappointment, forget that Shawzy just said he loves him. He can’t take it all in, because just then something clenches and then relaxes in his abdomen, and he’s suddenly soaked.
“What the fuck?” Shawzy says, and yanks his hand away from Brandon’s hip. Brandon gapes at him, and Shawzy gapes right back.
“I think my water broke.”
Shawzy may be tightly wound and kind of hyper, but he’s super cool headed under pressure. It’s a good thing, too, because Brandon legitimately freaks the fuck out as soon as they’re in the car heading to the hospital.
“I am not ready for this,” he says, eyes unfocused as he stares out the windshield. Why did he think having a baby, having a baby with Andrew Shaw nonetheless, was a good idea? They’re professional athletes. They’re basically really big, really rich children. Sometimes they go out and buy new underwear because they don’t want to do laundry.
“Brandon, you’re going to be fine. Everything’s going to be fine,” Shawzy says, but his voice is barely audible over the rushing in Brandon’s ears. A contraction ripples through his abdomen but he barely feels it. He’s too busy freaking the fuck out.
They get to the hospital without any incident, and Shawzy even parks calmly. His hands are steady when his helps Brandon out of the car, and his voice doesn’t shake when he talks to the front desk nurse. The baby is a little early, but not early enough for anyone to worry, and the nurses set them up in a room, all soothing voices and soft hands while Brandon quietly loses his mind.
He grabs Shawzy’s wrist after the nurses have left, squeezing so hard it must hurt, but Shawzy doesn’t even flinch. “This is ridiculous, Shawzy. We can’t have a baby.”
Shawzy reaches out and grabs Brandon’s chin in his fingers, tilts his head up until Brandon has no choice but to make eye contact. “Too late, Brandon. We’re having a baby. And it’s going to be awesome. Now calm the fuck down and breathe.”
Brandon breathes, focusing on the feeling of Shawzy’s wrist in his grip, the warm skin and sharp bone, and nods.
The contractions start coming faster and stronger, until they’re basically one long, rolling wave of pain. They’re bearable to start, about as bad as a hard check to the boards, but they get worse, making him gasp and curl up around the swell of his stomach, whimpering.
They offer him drugs, but he turns them down. Dr. Watts had laid out the complications that can arise in male deliveries if drugs are used, and even if the odds are low, he and Shawzy decided they’d rather not take the risk. He can deal with the pain, if it means the baby is more likely to be healthy.
Labor itself is nothing compared to the pain of the contractions leading up to it. Pushing sucks, it’s tiring and uncomfortable, and he’s pretty sure he almost breaks Shawzy’s hand, completely sure that parts of his own body are tearing, but in the end it’s worth it. When he hears the baby wailing, and looks up at Shawzy’s sweaty, flushed face, it’s all worth it.
They clean the baby off and lay him on Brandon’s chest. His whole head is almost purple, face scrunched up and tiny mouth wide as he screams. He has dark hair, matted to his skull, and quivery arms and legs that bat at the air while he cries. Objectively Brandon supposes he’s kind of weird looking - like a grumpy old man or an alien - but he’s the most perfect thing Brandon’s ever seen.
The cord gets cut, and they take him away for measuring, and Brandon stares up at the white ceiling of the delivery room, tuning out the bustle of the nurses and the buzzing of the machines all around and focusing on his body. He’s worn out, tired and sore like he’s just played a dozen game sevens in a row, but he’s so happy.
“Are you sure they didn’t sneak you drugs?” Shawzy asks from his bedside seat. “You look all dopey.”
Brandon rolls his head on the pillow to look at him. He looks wiped out, too, eyelids drooping and face pale. His hair is sticking up everywhere like he’s been running his hands through it. He grins, small and crooked, and Brandon smiles back.
“I love you, too,” Brandon says, and then he promptly falls asleep.
He’s woken up by a sharp cry, and slits his eyes open to see Shawzy lifting the baby out of his hospital crib, the little rolling cart near Brandon’s bed with a clear plastic top on it. Shawzy’s making a hushing noise, cradling the baby to his chest and bouncing it a little.
“Your Daddy is trying to sleep,” Shawzy coos down at the baby, and Brandon’s arms lift up, hands reaching. They feel empty, now, without the baby in them. Weird considering he’s only held him once.
“Gimme,” he says, voice croaky, and Shawzy turns.
“You need to sleep.”
“I need water,” Brandon says, and makes beckoning motions with his fingers. “Let me hold him, and get me something to drink.”
Shawzy brings the baby over, settles him in Brandon’s arms. They’re back in their original room, where they’ll be staying the night. There are balloons tucked in the alcove by the window, some flowers, and a few stuffed animals on the sill below.
“From the boys. And our parents. A bunch of people want to see you, and the baby.”
Brandon closes his eyes, the baby a warm weight on his chest, and says, “Get me some water, then we can discuss visitors.”
They let family in first, obviously. Brandon’s parents and sister drove up from St. Louis as soon as Shawzy called them the day before. They go nuts over the baby, passing him around and taking pictures and touching his tiny hands and feet.
“What are you going to name him?” Brittany asks, laughing when the baby scrunches his face up for no apparent reason, eyes squinting and then going wide. He’s a wiggly little thing, never still.
“Not sure. Every time we try to decide we fight,” Brandon says, and everyone laughs even though it’s not funny.
“He’s got your cheeks,” Brandon’s mom says.
“But Shawzy’s chin,” Brandon says. “Poor thing.”
“Ha ha,” Shawzy says, leaning against the wall by the bathroom door. “He’d be lucky to look like me.”
Shawzy’s parents are still in Belleville, but they’ve already booked a flight for the next day. Shawzy’s mom had cried at Brandon on the phone, and called him son, and told him she was proud of him. It had been extremely uncomfortable. But he’s always liked Shawzy’s family, and he’ll be glad to see them.
After Brandon’s family leaves the team starts trickling in. Jonny and Kaner come in first, and Kaner asks Brandon a zillion questions about the labor. Jonny praises them like they’d just played a good game, and looks about three seconds away from giving them a bracing fatherly speech before Kaner pulls him out of the room. After that it’s a short parade of Blackhawks, all with their own questions and advice, and everyone with an opinion on what they should name the baby.
“We should probably name him before they make us so crazy we name him Tommy or something,” Brandon says.
They end up fighting, again, and Shawzy storms off to the cafeteria. Brandon keeps the baby on his chest, staring down at his face and hoping a name will jump out at him. They’ve run through the list of old hockey players and family members and nothing seems right. Brandon even tried calling him Tommy.
The baby’s stomach makes a noise, and it seems to startle him, his eyes going super wide and his mouth pursing up. Brandon laughs, and a name pops into his head, previously dismissed but suddenly perfect.
“Clark,” he says, when Shawzy comes back, looking significantly calmer, with a bottle from the nurses station for the baby.
Shawzy’s eyebrows pull together in the middle of his forehead, and Brandon holds the baby out for him.
“Just look at him and think about it,” Brandon says, and Shawzy takes the baby, settles down in the chair and starts to feed him. Brandon watches, still not used to the feeling that bubbles up in his chest, expands until it seems like there’s no room for his heart or his lungs behind his rib cage, until Shawzy looks back up.
“Clark works,” he says, and Brandon grins.
They haven’t talked about their relationship, caught up in Clark and their visitors and getting themselves home. Brandon’s family is staying in town, and Shawzy’s family gets in, and their apartment basically has a revolving cast of wannabe caretakers for the first couple of days. And then Shawzy’s paternity leave expires and he has to go back to the team, and basically there’s no time.
Clark is a little monster, not a surprise considering his bloodlines, and it seems like he doesn’t sleep for the first two weeks. Brandon is a zombie, up at all hours feeding and changing and rocking, and even having two grandmothers in the apartment frequently does nothing for his exhaustion. He’s surprised they make it to week three, truthfully, but after that things seem to smooth out.
They’re coming up on Clark’s one month birthday, he’s finally sleeping long stretches at a time, and Brandon’s starting to make headway on the mountains of laundry that have accumulated over the last several weeks. Shawzy’s in Minnesota, but they’re flying home right after the game, and Brandon is bound and determined to stay awake long enough to talk to him after.
And maybe long enough for other things, since he’s finally feeling up to it, physically.
They’ve kissed, because it’s become routine for Shawzy to give him a kiss goodbye before leaving for road games, and a kiss hello when he gets home. They’ve even said “I love you” a few times, when Shawzy’s called in from the road to check in on Clark. But they haven’t talked about anything beyond that, and Brandon’s body has been healing and getting back to something like normal, so they haven’t touched each other either. And Brandon is ready for both talking and touching.
He gets all the laundry folded and put away during the game. He keeps Clark strapped to his chest during the first period, and puts him to bed during the intermission. He’s got the baby monitor on the end table, volume cranked up, for the last two periods.
But he’s out before the post game interviews start, eyelids drooping closed against his will, slumped over awkwardly on the couch. He wakes when Shawzy comes in, even though he tries to be quiet, because the baby cries just as the front door is opening. Brandon can see Shawzy drop his bag in the light from the television, kicking off his shoes and hurrying into the bedroom.
Brandon sits up, back popping and head muzzy. He’s disappointed he’d fallen asleep, he’d wanted to be clear-headed and fully awake for a conversation, for more than that, but he feels groggy and out of it when Shawzy comes back into the living room, Clark cradled in his arms.
“Hey,” he says, and his hair still looks damp. It’s a short flight from Minnesota, barely long enough to wrinkle Shawzy’s suit. His tie is crooked at his throat, grin crooked on his face.
“I love you,” Brandon says. Shawzy’s grin stretches out into a bright, big smile.
“I love you, too.”
“Sorry we’re such idiots,” he says next, because he’d kind of planned a script for what he wanted to say, but it’s late and he wants to put the baby to bed and bite Shawzy all over.
“That sums it up,” Shawzy says, still smiling. He reaches out with one hand, keeping the other under Clark’s diapered bottom, Clark’s wobbly head secure in the crook of Shawzy’s elbow, and cups Brandon face with his callused fingers. “Are we all good then?”
Brandon isn’t sure what the answer to that question is. They still claw and scratch and fight, they still haven’t talked about the misunderstandings they started out with, but right now, in the flickering light from the television set, Shawzy’s hand warm against his cheek and Clark snuffling himself back to sleep in Shawzy’s arm, all he feels is happy.
“Yeah,” he says, and tilts into Shawzy’s touch. “We’re all good.”